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

  • therealdmt

    Good. I only wish someone had started in on this sooner

  • redneck

    Sooner as in decades ago. The shape of the curve is important for serious long term operations.

  • perilun

    Good project. A major long term issue for humanity will be the min-g to prevent long term human physical problems. A variable gravity human facility (its own small space station) would be nice for running some folks at a certain level for a year. I would make sure that 1/4-g does not create long term issues … otherwise Mars would need to be a visit not a stay. Given that a lunar base is close enough for annual rotations we can simply see what happens in 1/6-g there. In any case the min-g would be needed for sizing artificial gravity radius and rotation speed – this could lead to some real mass implications for 2050+ timeframe spacecraft.

  • newpapyrus

    Absolutely agree. Should have been done back in the 1980s.

    Marcel

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, hope they get it finished while the ISS is still in orbit.

  • windbourne

    Fund this. Asap.
    The Japanese had a centrifuge that was supposed to go up there, but W killed it. Yet, this is the single most important reason for the ISS. We need to know what will happen on the moon and mars.

  • Paul_Scutts

    If we humans want to be anywhere away from the Earth long term, then this research is singularly one of the most important that needs to be conducted. It needs to be extended to be multi-generational. I’d be very interested in how they plan to dampen miscellaneous vibration caused by constantly shifting centre of mass.

  • Robert G. Oler

    ISS will be in orbit for a long time

  • windbourne

    I would guess that they will either weight each end enough that rat/mouse will not matter, or simply adjust other end ( same mass and then move it in and out ).

  • Terry Stetler

    A key research target should be mammalian reproductive success at Moon, Mars and Titan gravity levels.

  • duheagle

    For certain values of “long.” Long enough, though, to do full-lifetime studies of both mice and rats.

  • ThomasLMatula

    I hope so, but it is not going to be politicians that decide when it’s dropped in the ocean, it will be when it has a systems failure that requires it to be abandoned.

    Like the Shuttle it is a complex system that is being used past its original replacement date. It another case of technology Russian Roulette. It may last for decades. It may fail today.

  • Jeff2Space

    Meanwhile the cancelled ISS Centrifuge Accommodation Module, or CAM, sits in a parking lot at Tsukuba deteriorating.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrifuge_Accommodations_Module

  • Jeff2Space

    It was. It was cancelled to “save money”. Ugh. Oh well, better late than never, right? SMH.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrifuge_Accommodations_Module

  • Kenneth_Brown

    It’s hard to get anything like this into the ISS since many other experiments can be affected by vibrations of the structure. There were some discussions years ago about a variable G module for human studies that I remember reading about that was cancelled.

    The life of ISS is a bit of a concern. The Russians have talked about not renewing their commitment and partnering instead with China or returning to having their own station once again. The US is getting closer, but still doesn’t have a way to transfer crew on and off of the station. Other international partners could also leave the program making it too expensive for US politicians to support (they won’t get enough votes per dollar as they might for some other program of free government stuff).

  • Kenneth_Brown

    Long term health in reduced gravity is my major reason for wanting to put a facility on the Moon. While ISS is good for some experiments, the moon, being a more stable platform, can be good for other studies. Especially those to raise the TRL of systems destined for Mars. There are also a large number of commercial possibilities on the moon that would take far too much infrastructure on ISS.

  • Techshot, Inc.

    We’ve sorted the balance challenge for the Rodent Centrifuge Facility (RCF). We’re using the same solution on a smaller variable-g payload that launches on SpaceX CRS-14, currently set for April 2. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2038.html . Like the RCF, The Techshot owned and operated Multi-use Variable-gravity Platform will be a permanent ISS resource serving a variety of life and physical science investigations.

    This is the first customer experiment in it https://www.nasa.gov/ames/research/space-biosciences/mvp-spacex-14. Hope the links work.