NASA reaches limits of space station utilization as a laboratory
NASA are tackling the growing amount of cargo needed for scientific experiments aboard the International Space Station, rethinking how astronauts conduct them.Posted — Updated
Whether in one of the many telecommunications or biotech and life science companies that dot the Research Triangle Park, or 250 miles up on the International Space Station (ISS), the goal of each laboratory is full utilization. Making the most science possible is coming out of the lab by getting the most out of its resources, including the people working in the lab.
NASA thinks the ISS is not only doing that, but has has maxed out its utilization of its share of the space station given crew and cargo limitations, leading the agency to rethink how it processes scientific investigations in space and stores all the stuff needed to make that happen.
“To get at equipment for research, for some of our investigations, the crew has to wade through this stowage and find the right bags,” Costello said.
NASA is looking to new vehicles such as Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser cargo vehicle, Japan’s HTV-X, and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle to help solve the problem.
The research process itself is being rethought with more emphasis on astronauts completing more analysis in space instead of returning samples to the ground for additional study. Cargo limitations mean less than 1/3 of what goes up can come down with today’s cargo servicing capabilities. Much of that cargo capacity is consumed by freezers and refrigerators needed to keep samples cold.
“We are flying everything full,” Costello added.
NASA is the biggest user of the ISS as a laboratory, completing more investigations than the Canadian, European, and Japanese space agencies combined.
Impacts of ISS research
The top five most cited scientific papers based on research aboard the ISS: