NASA Selects Variable Gravity ISS Centrifuge for Funding

NASA has selected a proposal from Techshot to develop a variable gravity rodent centrifuge for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The two-year Phase II contract is worth up to $750,000.

“The counter-balanced centrifuge is designed to provide a facility to allow rats and mice to live and be observed in simulated gravity between 0-1 g for up to 90 days,” the company said in its proposal. “This streamlined design is more cost efficient and provides up to five cages. Each cage can accommodate at least six 30 gram mice, three 200 gram rats, or two 400 gram rats per cage.”

The centrifuge would allow researchers to conduct research on the effects of lower gravity conditions that future astronauts will encounter on the moon and Mars. The company also envisions other uses for the facility.

“Techshot sees tremendous potential commercial applications for the Rodent Centrifuge Facility – Quad Locker (RCF-QL) in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies where life science research holds promise for cell replacement therapies for bioregenerative diseases,” the proposal added.

A summary of the proposal is below.

Rodent Centrifuge Facility Quad Locker for ISS Life and Microgravity Science Research
Subtopic: ISS Utilization and Microgravity Research

Techshot, Inc.
Greenville, IN

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Ms. Rachel Ormsby

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 4
End: 6

Technical Abstract

According to the decadal report titled, Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era of Space Exploration, a Report, “…the AHB Panel would be remiss if it did not strongly recommend an animal centrifuge capable of accommodating rats/mice at variable gravity levels.” Furthermore, the panel stated, “…research on animal models will be constrained without the ability to manipulate the gravity variable as a factor modulating the fundamental processes underlying organ system homeostasis.”

In response, Techshot has proposed to develop an innovative Rodent Centrifuge Facility (RCF-QL) that utilizes four locker locations (Quad Locker) in the EXPRESS Rack for life science research. The counter-balanced centrifuge is designed to provide a facility to allow rats and mice to live and be observed in simulated gravity between 0-1 g for up to 90 days.

This streamlined design is more cost efficient and provides up to five cages. Each cage can accommodate at least six 30 gram mice, three 200 gram rats, or two 400 gram rats per cage. Each individual cage has adlib food and water, controllable lighting, and video monitoring. The habitat is temperature controlled with constant airflow throughout the cages. Air flow entraps waste in a filter that also treats the waste for bacteria and odor. Additional air filters will remove odors and ammonium from the animal enclosure.

The subsystems design will minimize crew time. Each subsystem requiring change-out during the 90 day experiment will be designed to be simple and intuitive in operations.

The RCF-QL will be the only facility capable of providing group housing for rats and mice, with a medium diameter centrifuge (20 in., 0.508 m) and a large rotating cage volume (up to 850 in3, 13,929 cm3 for the cage). All hardware cage features are designed to utilize the NIH animal care and use standards.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The Rodent Centrifuge Facility – Quad Locker (RCF-QL) offers the largest diameter centrifuge research tool flown on ISS. The RCF-QL is a unique and powerful instrument for novel life and microgravity science research.

Techshot’s initial targeted application of the proposed innovation is an offering of both the equipment and services associated with flight hardware and integration activities, which are highly desired by NASA-funded scientists.

The RCF-QL will enhance NASA’s position in exploration research by allowing rodent experiments at Moon or Mars gravity – a long-standing interest of NASA’s intramural and extramural gravitational physiology users. Its large cage geometry will allow the investigation of a variety of systems, biological and physical, with larger allowed volume than any other ISS centrifugal research device. And it can provide 1-g control conditions for experiments in stationary hardware such as animal and plant habitats.

The RCF-QL will have the additional advantage that Techshot is uniquely qualified to provide these space flight services, just as the company has done for PI’s on a variety of flight experiments for the nearly 30 years, including, for example, the Techshot rodent Bone Densitometer, and its artificial-gravity payloads such as the Avian Development Facility and the Multi-use Variable-g Platform.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

Techshot sees tremendous potential commercial applications for the Rodent Centrifuge Facility – Quad Locker (RCF-QL) in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies where life science research holds promise for cell replacement therapies for bioregenerative diseases.

Techshot already has been in talks with pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis and Eli Lilly regarding long-term rodent research aboard the ISS. In addition, the company has a long standing relationship with the CASIS, with which it has been working to identify and facilitate industry users of ISS and Techshot spaceflight hardware technologies.

The company also already has conducted multiple recent face-to-face discussions with Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace and Christian Maender of Axiom Space regarding deploying research systems such as the Techshot RCF-QL aboard their respective private commercial orbiting vehicles. Techshot also will commercialize the RCF-QL by incorporating it into the company’s spaceflight service catalog it markets to other federal agencies such as NIH, NSF, and DoD.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Biological (see also Biological Health/Life Support)
  • Biophysical Utilization
  • Machines/Mechanical Subsystems
  • Medical
  • Physiological/Psychological Countermeasures