After Successful Parabolic Flight Testing, Ring-Sheared Drop Experiment Arrives at the International Space Station

European Space Agency Astronaut Thomas Pesquet works on the Ring-Sheared Drop experiment inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module’s Microgravity Science Glovebox on the International Space Station. (Credit: International Space Station National Laboratory)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Following successful Flight Opportunities-supported parabolic flight testing on Zero Gravity Corporation’s G-FORCE ONE aircraft in April and May, 2021, the Ring-Sheared Drop (RSD) experiment from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center arrived at the International Space Station on Northrop Grumman’s NG-16 Cygnus spacecraft on August 12, 2021.

Developed by researchers at Marshall and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, New York, the RSD experiment enables study of the formation of potentially destructive amyloid fibrils, or protein clusters, like those found in the brain tissue of patients battling neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In Earth-based experiments, researchers had determined that amyloid fibrils may be created by shear flow, or the difference in flow velocity between adjacent layers of a liquid. In the case of ground experiments, that formation is affected by the presence of container walls and by convection, or the circular motion that occurs when warmer liquid rises while cooler liquid descends.

Conducting the experiments in microgravity enabled liquid specimens to form spherical drops, containing themselves via surface tension. Researchers on the parabolic flights “pinned” a droplet of liquid between two rings to cultivate amyloid fibrils for study.

Louise Strutzenberg, co-investigator for the experiment at Marshall, commented on the value of Flight Opportunities ahead of the RSD deployment to the station: “The parabolic demonstration proved that our modified hardware is capable of deploying and pinning each of the protein solutions that will be used on the station. The lessons learned will prepare us to take the next steps.”

Sridhar Gorti, principal investigator for the experiment at Marshall, also commented on the value for scientific discovery: “This flight opportunity is enhancing our knowledge of how fluids behave in space and is bringing us closer to a breakthrough that could help explain the development of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The team, a government sponsored collaboration with [academia] and industry, is passionate about unlocking the mechanisms of these devastating diseases.”