Press Release

OHB awarded ESA contract for the development of 3 Biological Experiment Units for the Biolab facility on board the ISS

Scientific experiments on wound healing of human skin, behavior of lung cells and enzymatic repair of bacteria in space

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.

About OHB System AG - OHB System AG is one of the three leading space companies in Europe. It belongs to the listed high-tech group OHB SE, where around 2,400 specialists and system engineers work on key European space programs. With two strong sites in Bremen and Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich and more than 35 years of experience, OHB System AG specializes in high-tech solutions for space. These include small and medium-sized satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications, science and space exploration as well as systems for human space flight, aerial reconnaissance and process control systems.
About Kayser Italia Srl - Kayser Italia Srl is a Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) and independent Italian system engineering company incorporated in 1986. The company is located in the countryside of Livorno (Italy). Kayser Italia area of business is the study, design, manufacturing, integration, testing and commissioning of H/W and S/W systems and subsystems for space applications. To date the company participated to 66 spaceflights with 106 payloads. The company has an User Support Operation center (USOC) for the support to the execution of experiments with astronauts on board the ISS.
About CIRiS - CIRiS (Center for Interdisciplinary Research  in Space) is a center of competence for real-time operations, emphasizing monitoring and control of complex systems in space and on Earth. CIRiS develops new knowledge and contributes to innovations in the intersections between technology and biology, and between technology and humans. The department has 15 years of experience with space operations as being one of ESAs control centers (N-USOC= Norwegian User and Support Center) and has operated 2 payloads on the ISS, the EMCS (European Modular Cultivation System) and the AIS (Automatic Identification system for ships). In total were 13 biological experiments successfully integrated and executed in the EMCS payload. CIRiS specializes in water and nutrient management for plant cultivation inside closed loop systems, with particular focus on sensor technology for monitoring and control of closed water loops.
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