Bremen/Oberpfaffenhofen, May 3, 2019. The SPECTRODemo technology demonstrator developed on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA) by OHB System AG, a subsidiary of the space and technology group OHB SE, in cooperation with the US company Ocean Optics transmitted a first data set from the International Space Station (ISS) to Earth. SPECTRODemo is the forerunner of a UV/VIS spectrometer modified for the analysis of biological and non-biological samples in space.
Exobiology: the question of life in space
The interdisciplinary science of exobiology, which deals with the question of life in space, investigates, among other things, the effects of space conditions on biological samples. Exposure platforms in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) with the possibility for long-duration solar exposure are ideal for investigating the effects of solar and cosmic radiation on various biological and non-biological samples. Up to now, the exobiology and space science research community has successfully made use of the ISS via the EXPOSE facility to expose samples to the space environment with subsequent analyses after return to Earth.
In order to be able to monitor samples in-situ and in near-real time, ESA is planning the development of a novel platform for exobiological research outside the ISS. The Exobiology facility, which can host up to seven different experiments, will retain the unique features of the ISS, such as long-term exposure and sample return capability. A key non-invasive method to analyze samples in-situ is the ultraviolet-visible (UV/VIS) spectroscopy. Changes in the absorption spectra of the samples developing over time will reveal the chemical consequences of exposure to solar radiation. The UV/VIS spectrometer will be one of the main instruments accommodated on board the Exobiology facility. For this reason, ESA supported the development of SPECTRODemo as precursor technology demonstrator.
SPECTRODemo is using the same configuration (spectrometer and fiber switch) envisaged for the Exobiology facility, and will provide useful insights for the upcoming flight development. The interface for the technology demonstrator aboard the ISS is provided by the ICE Cubes facilities inside the European Physiology Module (EPM), which was also built by OHB and has been part of the ISS since 1998.
The system will operate for 75 days in autonomous mode and data is made directly available to the User Home Base located at OHB’s Human Spaceflight department in Bremen.
Cooperation between the sites
The SPECTRODemo project is a prime example of cooperation between the OHB sites in Bremen and Oberpfaffenhofen, as it combines the expertise of the OHB Space Center “Optics and Science” in Oberpfaffenhofen with the many years of ISS payload experience of the Human Spaceflight department at OHB in Bremen.