Investigations at the station: Particles and muscles

Investigations at the station: Particles and muscles

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of January 23 that included studying the organization of particles in fluids, monitoring how space changes muscle tone, and examining the formation of plasma crystals.

Here are details on some of the microgravity research currently taking place in the orbiting laboratory:

Control of particles in fluids

Particle vibration (Particle Vibration), a European Space Agency (ESA) investigation, studies the self-organization mechanisms of particles in fluids. Vibration could serve as a new technique for manipulating dispersed particles, and unlike the use of magnetic or electric fields, it would not be limited to electrically conductive or active liquids and particles. The results could improve the basic understanding of fluids with dispersed solid particles, which have applications in space such as spacecraft subsystems, cooling systems for heat exchangers and solar energy collectors, and on Earth in cooling systems, solar energy collectors, nuclear reactors and electronics. A better understanding of the behavior of scattered particles could even give us information about the formation of asteroids and planets, which involved mixtures of gas and solid matter in primordial nebulae. During the week, crew members collected and downloaded images for testing the experiment. The team on the ground uses these images to verify that the investigation is working as expected and to adjust parameters as needed.

muscle monitoring

The ESA investigation Myotones monitors changes in muscle properties before, during, and after spaceflight to determine the extent of in-flight muscle deconditioning and recovery once back on the ground. The experiment complements current monitoring of human health and fitness on board and could improve the scientific team’s understanding of the fundamental principles of resting human muscle tone on Earth and in space. That understanding could support the development of better countermeasures for future space missions, as well as alternative rehabilitation treatments for those experiencing the effects of aging and restricted mobility on Earth. Crew members made measurements for the investigation during the week.

Looking at the plasma particles

PK-4, a collaboration between ESA and the Russian space agency ROSCOSMOS, studies complex plasmas, low-temperature gaseous mixtures of ionized gas, neutral gas and micron-sized particles. Plasmas occur throughout the universe, from the interstellar medium to the heat shields of spacecraft reentering Earth’s atmosphere. Understanding the formation of plasma crystals in microgravity could lead to new research methods, improved spacecraft designs, and breakthroughs in industries on Earth that use plasmas. During the week, crew members trapped particulate clouds inside the PK-4 chamber as part of Campaign 15 Experimental Ops, then packed up hard drives for return to Earth and switched the chamber’s gas from Neon to Argon.

These tomato plants grown on the International Space Station for the Veg-05 experiment are beginning to flower. The research examines fruit production, microbial food safety, nutritional value, crew acceptability of taste, and overall plant behavioral health benefits.
Image Credit: NASA

Other investigations involving the crew:

  • Veg-05 uses the station’s Veggie facility to grow dwarf tomatoes and examine the effect of light quality and fertilizers on fruit production, microbial food safety, nutritional value, crew taste acceptability, and overall behavioral health benefits. Growing plants to provide fresh food and improve the overall life experience of crew members supports future long-duration missions.
  • The research Deployable Solar Panels (ROSA, for its acronym in English) tested a prototype of new solar arrays, the ISS ROSAs (iROSAs), which are now being installed on the space station. Upon completion of installation, the new arrays are expected to increase the power available for station operations and science activities by 20 to 30%.
  • Sphere Camera-1, sponsored by the International Space Station National Laboratory, evaluates the performance of an ultra-high-resolution camera in microgravity. The results could support the design and development of cameras with higher resolution, detail and sharpness for imaging on future exploration missions, including to the Moon and Mars.
  • Plant Habitat-03 assesses whether epigenetic adaptations in one generation of space-grown plants can be transferred to the next generation. The results could provide information on how to grow repeated generations of plants to provide food and other services on future space missions.
  • BioNutrients-2 tests an on-demand system to produce specific amounts of key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product known as kefir, and a yeast-based beverage. In-flight production of vitamins and other nutrients could help maintain crewmember health on these missions while reducing launch mass and volume requirements.
image of an astronaut working with an experiment

NASA astronaut Josh Cassada works on BioNutrients-2, research that uses genetically modified microbes to produce nutrients on demand and potentially other compounds and pharmaceuticals in space.
Image Credit: NASA

The space station is a robust microgravity laboratory with various facilities and specialized research tools. It has operated continuously for more than two decades, supporting many scientific breakthroughs from research spanning all scientific disciplines. The International Space Station Benefits to Humanity 2022 publication details the expanding universe of results from more than 20 years of experiments conducted on the station. Access the publication and related materials online.

image of a female astronaut working during a spacewalk

NASA astronaut Nicole Mann conducts her first spacewalk with JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata (out of frame). They installed a modification kit on the International Space Station’s starboard truss structure to allow for the future addition of deployable solar arrays, which increase the station’s power to support scientific research and operations.
Image Credit: NASA

For more news in Spanish, follow @NASA_es and sign up for the weekly newsletter here. For more news in English about the investigations aboard the station, follow @ISS_Research and Space Station Research and Technology News. Follow ISS National Lab for information about their sponsored research. And, for a chance to see the International Space Station pass over your city, visit Spot the Station.

By John Love
Johnson Center, Houston, Texas

Spanish translation: National University of Mar del Plata Mar del Plata, Argentina

Read this story in English here.


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