NASA apparatus to hitch ride on US Air Force plane

Washington: An experimental apparatus belonging to NASA would be hitching a ride on the US Air Force’s famous X-37B unmanned space plane as it sets off on its next mission on Wednesday.

The NASA payload, called the Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS) investigation, aims to test how the space environment affects certain materials.

The experiment is packed aboard the X-37B spacecraft, which is scheduled to blast off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on May 20 at 14.45 GMT (20.15 IST) from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, reported.

“By exposing materials to space and returning the samples to Earth, we gain valuable data about how the materials hold up in the environment in which they will have to operate,” METIS principal investigator Miria Finckenor was quoted as saying.

“Spacecraft designers can use this information to choose the best material for specific applications, such as thermal protection or antennae or any other space hardware,” Finckenor added.

METIS will use some of the same materials as those placed on the International Space Station for the Materials on International Space Station Experiment (MISSE), which operated between 2001 and 2013 and flew more than 4,000 samples into space.

Part of the goal is to look for more environment-friendly materials that can be used in space, the researchers said.

The X-37B last landed in October 2014 after spending 674 days in orbit. It has flown three space missions so far, conducting activities that are mostly secret.

The US Air Force owns two X-37B spacecraft, both of which were built by Boeing’s Phantom Works division.