Student Spaceflight Experiments Program

Last update to this page: April 1, 2019

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), launched June 2010 by the U.S. National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in partnership with NanoRacks, LLC, is a remarkable Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education initiative that gives typically 300 students across a community the ability to design and propose real experiments to fly in low Earth orbit, first aboard the final flights of the Space Shuttle, and then on the International Space Station (ISS).

Starting with Mission 2 to ISS, SSEP ‘s fourth flight opportunity, the program is now available for participation by international communities in: European Space Agency (ESA) member nations, European Union (EU) member nations, Canada, and Japan, with participation through the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education.

SSEP is about a commitment to student ownership in exploration, to science as journey, and to the joys of learning. For school systems—even individual schools—it provides an opportunity to implement a systemic, high caliber, and historic STEM education program tailored to community need.

SSEP is about immersing and engaging students and their teachers in real science—on the high frontier—so that students are given the chance to be scientists—and experience science firsthand.

Most of the links in the program summary below are to the 1) SSEP main website that provides an overview of the program, how to participate, and all resources in support of program operations, and 2) the separate SSEP Community Network Hubsite that provides an overview of the participating communities, the scope of the program at the local level, the experiments flown, and the over 1,150 partner institutions.

Each community participating in SSEP conducts a local Flight Experiment Design Competition with student teams vying for an experiment slot reserved just for their community in a real research mini-laboratory scheduled to fly in low Earth orbit. The design competition—from program start, to experiment design, to submission of proposals by student teams—runs a minimum of 8 weeks. Students can design experiments in diverse fields, including: seed germination, crystal growth, physiology of microorganisms and life cycles (e.g. bacteria), cell biology and growth, food studies, and studies of micro-aquatic life. Content resources for teachers and students support foundational instruction on science in microgravity and experimental design. A suite of SSEP program elements—the Community Program—leverages the flight experiment design competition to engage the entire community, embracing the Center’s Learning Community Model for STEM education, and allows the experience to be celebrated with national, even global audiences.

“This whole thing is so unbelievable. We are doing real science research that really matters. What we design will really fly in space aboard the very last space shuttle mission. This could be a life-changer for me. It is something that I will someday tell my grandkids about. How cool!”
—Isaac Jepsen, Senior, Ridge View High School, Galva-Holstein, Iowa

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Key Program Objectives:
• Immerse students in real science, including the design of real experiments constrained by the operation of a microgravity mini-laboratory and flight operations to and from Low Earth Orbit; submission of formal proposals by student teams; formal selection of flight experiments through a 2-step proposal review process; a formal NASA flight safety review for the selected flight experiments; and a research conference at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, DC,  for reporting of experiment results.

• Provide a model for a true STEM education program that embraces student ownership in learning, and broad interdisciplinary connections.

• Provide an authentic view of science that has the ability to change perceptions about the nature of science for students and the public; and the nature of science education for teachers.

• Use the excitement of real science on the high frontier to engage entire communities of students, teachers, and families.

Program Highlights:
Since program inception in June 2010, there have been fifteen SSEP flight opportunities—SSEP on STS-134 and STS-135, which were the final flights of Space Shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis; and SSEP Missions 1 through 13 to ISS. A total of 178 communities have participated in the program, reflecting 41 States and the District of Columbia in the U. S., 4 Provinces in Canada, and a community in Brazil. Thus far 52 communities have participated in multiple flight opportunities – one community is even conducting their 9th flight with Mission 13 – reflecting the sustainable nature of the program.

Through the first fifteen flight opportunities (through Mission 13), a total of 109,950 grade 5-16 students across 2,192 schools were fully immersed in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing, 22,442 flight experiment proposals were received from student teams, and 281 experiments were selected for flight. Through Mission 13, 147,400 students across the entire grade preK-16 pipeline were engaged in their communities’ broader STEAM experience, submitting 120,670 Mission Patch designs.

All 240 experiments selected for flight through Mission 12 have now flown. The Mission 12 experiments returned to Earth on August 3, 2018. Another 41 experiments are expected to launch in Summer 2019 as the Mission 13 Gemini payload of experiments on SpaceX-18, launching from Kennedy Space Center, FL.

SSEP Mission 14 to ISS
The sixteenth SSEP flight announcement of opportunity—for Mission 14 to ISS—provides for an experiment design competition Fall 2019, and a ferry flight to ISS in Spring 2020. Mission 14 to ISS is open to school districts and schools across the U.S. (grades 5-12); 2-year community colleges and 4-year colleges across the U.S.; communities in the U.S. led by informal education or
 out-of-school organizations; and international communities in European Space Agency (ESA) member nations, European Union (EU) member nations, Canada, and Japan, through the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education—the international arm of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

Intrigued? Visit the SSEP Main Website for full program details, or Contact Us.

Other Student Spaceflight Experiments Program pages of interest:
Video Clip Overview of the SSEP
SSEP Participating Communities
Student Experiments Selected for Flight
SSEP In the News
Program Impact from Teachers, Students, and Community Leaders
Mission Patches Flying with Flight Experiments
SSEP National Blog for complete program news

Important Points for SSEP International Participation:
• All SSEP website content and documents will only be made available in English.

• The Clarke Institute will require that each international SSEP team have a liaison to the Institute that speaks and writes fluent English.

• All communications with the Institute, including submission of documentation (experiment proposals, questions, etc.), be in English. We understand that student teams in non-English speaking nations may not be capable of participating in SSSEP without an English fluent liaison. The Institute will try and assist in finding a liaison for interested communities, though embassies in the U.S. and through relevant international organizations such as Academies of Science.

How to Participate:
Carefully read the SSEP Home Page and contact the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education.


SSEP is undertaken by the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education in partnership with NanoRacks LLC. This on-orbit, real research opportunity for students is enabled through NanoRacks LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.