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Top Center GoalsNASA honors researchers behind innovative space station science in 2016

July 21, 2017

As an agency that values innovation, NASA recognized four scientific investigations and facilities on the International Space Station for contributions to the science community during a special ceremony at the sixth annual International Space Station Research and Development (ISS R&D) Conference in Washington, D.C., on July 20.

"Our mission on the space station is to push the boundaries of discovery," said Julie Robinson, chief scientist for the International Space Station. "Scientists are using this valuable facility to build a better life for humanity and also make those strides that will help us explore deeper into our solar system."

These investigations were honored for innovative science:
  • Dr. Sarah Wallace, with NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, representing the team that helped create a method to sequence DNA in space, was honored in the human health in space category.
  • Paul C. Joss, Ph.D., with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Carlisle; and John DeVore, Paul Pauliukonis, Andrew LePage and A.T. Stair with Visidine, Inc., of Burlington, Massachusetts, were recognized in the Earth science and remote sensing category for the remote sensing and study of intense storms from space.
  • Mike Lewis from NanoRacks of Webster, Texas; and Masaru Wada, Hiroki Akagi, Takayuki Sato and Kunihiro Matsumoto with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in the commercialization and nongovernment utilization category for their efforts in using the station to deploy small satellites.
  • A team of researchers from Argotec in Torino, Italy, in the technology development and demonstration category for developing a new method to efficiently regulate temperature on the space station and future spacecraft.
Biomolecule Sequencer
A new technology tested over the course of 2016 was the Biomolecule Sequencer, a device that allows crew members to sequence DNA for various experiments in space. DNA sequencing is typically time-consuming, requires highly technical sample-preparation methods and bulky and expensive equipment. This investigation tests a miniature sequencer in space to diagnose infectious diseases, identify microbes and better understand the genetic changes experienced by astronauts while in space.

"Samples would not need to be frozen and returned to a lab on Earth for analysis, a process that likely alters molecular signatures," said Dr. Aaron Burton, principal investigator with the Biomolecule Sequencer project.

"They can be examined on the station immediately after being collected, transmitting the data back to the ground, providing valuable insight that could be used to adjust experimental parameters," Wallace said. "The small size of the Biomolecule Sequencer, approximately the size of a deck of playing cards, could also help doctors save lives in remote countries with minimal resources."

Cyclone Intensity Measurements from the ISS (CyMISS)
The station provides a unique vantage point to watch weather patterns on Earth. The CyMISS investigation is an effort to improve intensity measurements and weather prediction models for hurricanes and typhoons (collectively known as tropical cyclones) to help emergency responders and coastal residents better prepare for future storms.

Atmospheric scientists captured time-lapse images of tropical cyclones using an automated camera aimed through one of the portals on the space station. This imagery can be used to measure the heights of the cloud tops just outside the clear eye at the center of the storm. Combining these measurements with other data gives scientists a new technique for obtaining accurate real-time measurements of the intensities of strong tropical cyclones.

"Our method requires simultaneous measurements of the temperatures of the storm's cloud tops, which can be obtained using passive instrumentation on microsatellites in low-Earth orbit," said Joss, principal investigator for CyMISS. "Combining this data with readily available information on the temperature of the ocean surface beneath the storm, we can accurately determine the sea-level air pressure at the storm's center, which is the best measure of the storm's real-time intensity. With this knowledge, we can more accurately predict the devastating wind speeds and tidal surge that will occur when a tropical cyclone makes landfall."

NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD) and Japanese Experiment Module Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD)
The two groups managing this project—NanoRacks and JAXA—proved just how valuable collaboration can be, especially when it comes to commercial and non-government utilization of the space station.

A series of small satellites—each about the size of a loaf of bread—are delivered to the space station and jettisoned into orbit using the NRCSD and J-SSOD. These self-contained deployment systems operate on the end of a robotic arm, called the JEM Remote Manipulator System, mounted to the exterior of the station. These systems consist of rectangular compartments that deploy the small satellites to place them into orbit.

"It provides a low-cost and frequent-flight opportunity for industry and academia to place research satellites into space," Lewis said. "It also allows countries from around the world the chance to become space-faring nations."

This method also opened new possibilities for students, businesses and international cooperation as a gateway to space. The satellites conduct a variety of studies, mainly Earth observation, including studying weather patterns or monitoring the gaseous molecules in our atmosphere.

Advanced Research Thermal passive Exchange (ARTE)
The station has an intricately designed system to avoid issues due to overheating. There are areas where heat needs to be drawn away from sensitive electronics and transferred to areas that are cold, or ventilated to space. The Advanced Research Thermal Passive Exchange (ARTE) investigation tested several new heat pipe designs with low toxicity fluids that reduce complexity of thermal systems while also increasing their efficiency.

The ARTE pipes used a working fluid and the capillary action of internal grooves for fluid motion without using pumps or mechanical devices. This technology does not require electrical power or maintenance, ensuring low compexity and high reliability.

"The future of exploration and the success of space missions will be increasingly linked to systems able to reduce the need for human control and maintenance," said David Avino, managing director of Argotec, the Italian company that developed ARTE. "Heat pipes can be integrated into future space exploration as well as daily Earth applications."

For more information on the annual ISS R&D Conference, visit the conference website: www.issconference.org

R&D conference logo

The sixth annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference provides updates on science and technology accomplishments, offering potential users information and avenues for sending their investigations to the space station. The conference was held July 17 to 20 in Washington, D.C. Image Credit: CASIS


Bill Hubscher
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
 
From left, Sarah Wallace, Sarah Stahl, Aaron Burton and Kristen John, project developers for the Biomolecule Sequencer located at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Image Credit: NASA
From left, Sarah Wallace, Sarah Stahl, Aaron Burton and Kristen John, project developers for the Biomolecule Sequencer located at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Image Credit: NASA
Mike Lewis from NanoRacks in Webster, Texas, stands in front of an image of the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer outside of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NanoRacks
Mike Lewis from NanoRacks in Webster, Texas, stands in front of an image of the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer outside of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NanoRacks
Tropical Cyclone Debbie is photographed on March 27, 2017, the day before it struck Australia. The Tropical Cyclone investigation on the space station would provide more information about major storms on Earth to improve weather prediction models to help emergency responders and coastal residents better prepare for future storms. Image Credit: NASA
Tropical Cyclone Debbie is photographed on March 27, 2017, the day before it struck Australia. The Tropical Cyclone investigation on the space station would provide more information about major storms on Earth to improve weather prediction models to help emergency responders and coastal residents better prepare for future storms. Image Credit: NASA
David Avino is the managing director of Argotec in Torino, Italy, the company responsible for the Advanced Research Thermal Passive Exchange investigation testing methods to draw heat away from sensitive electronics aboard space station. Image Credit: Argotec
David Avino is the managing director of Argotec in Torino, Italy, the company responsible for the Advanced Research Thermal Passive Exchange investigation testing methods to draw heat away from sensitive electronics aboard space station. Image Credit: Argotec