This piece is part of our Forging the Path series in which CASIS experts share knowledge and insight from their experience managing a national lab in space.
Robbie Hampton serves as Director of Payload Operations for the ISS National Lab. He has been supporting payloads and ISS National Lab-sponsored research for more than 10 years.
I’m often asked, “Which Implementation Partner should I work with?” or “Which Implementation Partner would you choose?” The answer to that question is most definitely in the eye of the beholder. Each Implementation Partner offers a unique set of skills and capabilities (think Liam Neeson in the movie “Taken”). These capabilities may include experience in your particular field of research, hardware, and facilities on ISS well-suited for the type of research you are wanting to accomplish.
Other questions that pop up from time to time are, “Do I even need an Implementation Partner?” and “What purpose do they serve?”. The answer to that question is a resounding, YES! Implementation Partners (IPs) can elevate your experiment from a ground-based project to a space-based one. Pun intended! They are the subject matter experts at designing, building, integrating, and operating experiments on the space station. They can help you uncover what you don’t know about working and operating in the microgravity environment or where even the little things we take for granted can have a big effect on your investigation. Picking the right IP can greatly improve your chances of executing a successful experiment.
So, how does one sift through the dozens of IPs and emerging space startups to find the right fit? The best place to start is our ISS National Lab Implementation Partner Directory. Here you will find a complete list of ISS National Lab-approved IPs. You can sort the directory by science discipline and get a feel for what each company has to offer. Each IP provides contact info so you can reach out directly if you so choose, or alternatively, the ISS National Lab offers some assistance through the Implementation Partner Portal. This portal allows you the ability to upload your experiment requirements and send an opportunity to all of the IPs. The IPs, in turn, can raise their hand and propose to support your experiment through a competitive process. At the end of the process, you will be able to choose the IP that’s right for you.
Now, you might ask, “How do I determine which IP is right for me?” While picking an IP is not an exact science, I can offer some guidance in the form of questions you might ask of potential partners.
- Does the IP have any experience successfully implementing investigations similar to yours? Can they provide examples?
- Does the IP have a good handle on the research objectives of your investigation?
- Does what they propose make sense, and can you trace your science requirements and research objectives through the experiment hardware and concept of operations?
- Does the IP provide hardware well-suited to support your experiment, or does new hardware need to be developed? What will the experience be like?
- How will they capture your experiment requirements and what testing will be done to ensure the requirements can be met?
When assessing the answers to these questions, there are some things to keep in mind. An IP that understands the science and has a historical record of supporting similar science experiments has a greater chance of delivering mission success. This must be weighed against novel approaches that may offer a cheaper, faster alternative but may add additional risk to achieving the scientific aims. Utilizing existing hardware versus modifying or building new hardware can reduce risk toward achieving mission success. Proven hardware is a known, whereas new hardware can present unforeseen challenges on all three fronts—technical, schedule, and cost. Another key aspect to consider is the test program. How soon can you test science compatibility with the hardware? The sooner you can test out the hardware with your science, the higher the likelihood of mission success.
At the end of the day, the final decision rests in your hands. You want to feel comfortable and confident in the IP chosen. It’s all about the science, baby! The better your IP understands and cares about the science, the better your chances of executing a successful experiment.
Once you have selected an IP and completed a successful experiment, the next question to ask is, “When can I do another?”
Want to learn more about the IP Portal, contact [email protected].