Bremen, January 9, 2019. OHB System AG, a subsidiary of space and technology group OHB SE, signed a contract with the European Space Agency ESA for the development of three individual experiment units for biological research under microgravity conditions onboard the International Space Station (ISS). OHB has the role of the prime contractor in a consortium with two other European space entities; the Italian space company Kayser Italia S.r.l from Livorno and the Norway Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS), a non-profit institute owned by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology from Trondheim. Each consortium partner will be responsible for one of the three experiments. The project has an order value of 4,8 million euros. It will start in January 2019 and will last 30 months.
Investigation of the effect of cosmic radiation on bacteria in space
The team of the Human Spaceflight department at OHB System in Bremen will develop “LUX in Space” experiment” to analyze the kinetics of enzymatic repair reactions of bacteria after irradiation. In space the cosmic irradiation affects cells by cell inactivation, mutation induction or chromosomal anomalies. The question is if the radiation effects are modified by microgravity or not. DNA lesions are fixed by intracellular repair mechanisms. This experiment examines if these repair mechanisms are affected by microgravity. The knowledge of biological space radiation effects as well as the impact of microgravity is mandatory for risk assessment for long term space missions.
Focus on wound closure and bronchial mucosa
Kayser Italia is responsible for the development of the experiment called “Suture in Space”. This experiment studies the wound closure or healing of human skin and blood vessel under microgravity. Previous studies showed effects on the behavior of tissue repairing cells under unloaded conditions. The recognition of this experiment is very valuable for long term space missions in case of injuries of a crew member.
CIRiS will manage the technical realization of the “3D Bronchial Mucosa” experiment. For this the science team has pioneered the development of novel 3D models that mimic the normal human lung mucosae. On earth the gravity has a profound influence on lung function by serving the balance between ventilation and uneven perfusion of the pulmonary vessels that the gas exchange remains efficient. In space the pulmonary function is greatly altered by weightlessness. With the mucosa model the influence of gravity on multi-cellular structures shall be examined in vitro.
The three experiment shall be executed one after the other in the Biolab facility, which is a multi-user facility developed to perform biological experiments onboard the Columbus Module, the European Laboratory part of the International Space Station ISS. The launches of the experiment hardware and the experiment executions are planned sequenced from 2020 for Suture in Space, 2021 for LUX in Space and finally 3D Bronchial Mucosa in 2022. The new hardware development requires microfluidic components integrated in an experiment container which hosts the experiment chamber for the biological samples. An automated refreshment of the culture medium will allow a long term experiment run up to 10 weeks. Samples of the wasted culture medium will be stored at -70°C for later transport to earth and analysis in the laboratory of the scientists. During the experiment execution data will be downlinked to the scientist sequentially for direct analysis. To determine the effect of microgravity all experiments will be implemented in parallel on earth with the same set up.