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NASA via AP

SpaceX will launch its 11th resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) next week, but NASA has also stocked some scientific payloads on the trip. They cover a wide range of fields, encompassing everything from key medical research to interplanetary navigation.

The big one: NICER (short for Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer) is an instrument that will be attached to the ISS to help understand the structure and energy of neutron stars — the densest, fastest-spinning, and most magnetic objects in the universe. NICER science lead Zaven Arzoumanian called neutron stars "a giant atomic nucleus" because they're only about 10 miles wide but contain more than double the mass of the Sun.

Another use: NICER will have an enhancement called SEXTANT (Station Explorer for X-Ray Timing and Navigation) which will detect the X-rays given off as neutron stars spin hundreds of times each second. Due to this characteristic, Arzoumanian said that neutron stars are "very accurate clocks distributed all over the sky." SEXTANT can use these "clock" signals to calculate position, eventually allowing spacecraft to navigate anywhere in the solar system using onboard systems.

Other cool things headed to the ISS:

  • Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA): ROSA is a new unrollable type of solar panel that, according to principal investigator Jeremy Barnik, is "just like a paper towel and on the towels are photovoltaic cells." It's getting sent to the ISS to see how its millimeters-thick solar panels fare in the tough environment of space.
  • NELL-1: NELL-1 is a molecule being tested in microgravity to see how it can preserve bone mass for humans in long-term spaceflight and space habitation. 40 mice will receive the therapy on the ISS, of which 20 will splash back down in the Pacific after a few weeks for further study.
  • Fruit Fly Lab-02: Six boxes of fruit flies are headed up to study the effects of spaceflight on the cardiovascular system. Karen Ocorr, co-investigator for the lab, said that fruit flies' heartbeat is more on pace with humans than rodents, making them a surprisingly better candidate for such a study.
  • Capillary Structures for Exploration Life Support (CSEL): CSEL will test designs for systems that can collect and transport fluid without gravity. Its hope is to be much more reliable than current systems that mimic gravity using mechanical workarounds, so it can be used to collect carbon dioxide and recirculate water during deep space exploration by humans.
  • Multiple User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES): MUSES is a little different than the rest because it's an Earth-imaging platform that will host other payloads on the ISS. Its technology reduces the barrier for entry to bring an instrument to the space station, allowing a company or developing nation to send their own Earth-imaging payload.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

NRA declares bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will seek to reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment."

The big picture: The move comes just months after New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden: "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution

Joe Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden promised to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine manufacturing, as he outlined a five-point plan to administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in the first months of his presidency.

Why it matters: With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, Biden is trying to establish how he’ll approach the pandemic differently than President Trump.