SpaceX is launching a variety of critical research and supplies to the International Space Station on Tuesday, November 22 at 3:54 pm EST (Wednesday, November 23 at 2:24 am IST), as part of the private firm’s 26th Commercial Resupply Services mission, SpaceX CRS-26. The research will be launched on board a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, atop a Falcon 9 rocket, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The most interesting experiments being sent include research on bone regeneration, an implantable drug delivery device, a tissue chip system, and ants.
These investigations, sponsored by ISS National Laboratory, intend to bring value to the United States through space-based research and technology development. This will enable commerce in low-Earth orbit.
Here are some insights into the most interesting investigations:
Bone regeneration experiment
The experiment to test bone regeneration in microgravity is called Tetranite. It is a proprietary bone adhesive manufactured by RevBio, formerly called LaunchPad Medical, a clinical-stage medical device company.
Tetranite can speed up new bone growth and reduce recovery time and discomfort in patients with a bone fracture. Astronauts on the space station will test how well Tetranite works to regenerate bones in microgravity.
Implantable drug delivery
An implantable drug delivery device is being launched to the space station. Developed by the Houston Methodist Research Institute, the device can be operated remotely to enable therapeutics to be distributed inside the human body in a controlled manner.
If the experiment is successful, doctors will be able to use the device to remotely control drug delivery in patients in remote areas of Earth. Also, astronauts will be able to use the device during spaceflight.
Electrical Stimulation of Human Myocytes in Microgravity
A series of tissue chip investigations, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is being sent to the space station. A University of Florida project, the series of tissue chips can mimic human physiology, and allow researchers to evaluate the safety and efficacy of drugs for patients on Earth.
The project is based on results from a previous nanofluids project sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory. The experiment will help develop complex drug regimens for future test subjects in space.
The team of researchers involved in the project aims to develop a tissue chip system to culture and electrically stimulate human skeletal muscles from young and older adults. If the project is effective in microgravity, researchers can develop therapeutics to treat age-related muscle loss conditions on Earth, according to a statement released by ISS National Laboratory.
The project is called ‘Electrical Stimulation of Human Myocytes in Microgravity’. Electrical stimulation contracts muscle microtissues. This allows researchers to monitor muscle contraction rates.
Since physiological changes resulting in loss of muscle mass and strength occur about 10 times faster in microgravity than on Earth, the tissue chip platform will act as an advanced human cell culture system to investigate microgravity-induced physiological changes. These changes mimic age-related muscle loss. Therefore, the space station will serve as the best place to test therapeutics to treat muscle wasting.
Astronauts will culture human skeletal muscle cells in microgravity.
Research on ants, plant growth
More than 20 student-led investigations are being launched to the space station. The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, a yearly competition for middle and high school-aged students, is sending these investigations.
There is a fleet of MixStix experiments in the fields of plant biology, microbial research, crystal growth and physics.
Certain payloads, which are supported by the Girl Scouts of America and Space Kids Global, will also be launched to the space station. These payloads will experiment on brine shrimp, ants and plant growth in low-Earth orbit.
It is not possible to create certain geometries on Earth due to the presence of gravity. Therefore, the ‘Extrusion’ investigation will be used to extrude liquid resin, a synthetic fluid that quickly dries into an extremely durable solid when mixed with a hardening agent, into custom forms in microgravity.
In this way, complex structures with specifically tailored properties can be created.
Earth’s gravity reforms large objects such as beams in large-scale construction. Since microgravity enables fabrication of longer and thinner structures, the ‘Extrusion’ project will demonstrate a technology using liquid resin to create geometries that cannot be created on Earth.
For instance, a variety of structures such as space stations, equipment and solar arrays could be created.