The space offers “fundamentally different [R&D] environment”: chief scientist of the ISS Lab

The International Space Station (ISS) is open for business, ISS National Laboratory chief scientist Dr. Michael Roberts told Yahoo Finance at CES 2023 (video above).

Roberts attended the event to spread the word about research and development opportunities at the ISS.

“We’ve all seen videos of crew members playing with water or M&Ms in a space environment, so you understand that it’s fundamentally a completely different environment than what we have here on Earth,” he said. “This translates into fundamental research into the physics of objects. So we’ve been working with materials science companies that are trying to improve turbine blades for use in spacecraft and aircraft engines. We are working with powertrain engineers who are trying to refine and increase fuel efficiency.”

The world of companies that ISS works with is huge and ranges from pharmaceutical companies to consumer goods companies.

“We also work intensively with the pharmaceutical sector,” he said. “So living in space for a long time is a lot, but it also puts a strain on your body. Our immune system does not work so well in this cosmic environment. Our bones and muscles begin to weaken over time, so you can use this as a medical researcher to understand ways to combat this on Earth.”

Procter & Gamble (PG) is an R&D partner of ISS, focusing its efforts on the major laundry detergent brand Tide. P&G initially approached NASA, but it was the company’s partnership with the ISS that allowed it to test the Tide in space, said Mark Sivik, senior director of research at P&G.

“It costs about $10,000 to launch a kilogram of water to the International Space Station, let alone go to the moon or Mars, so you don’t just have infinite water,” said Sivik. “Many people don’t know this, but astronauts don’t wash their clothes. So each of the crew members who go up wears their clothes for three to four days at a time and is replaced after the missions are replenished. Now imagine you exercise and wear the same clothes the next day.”

In microgravity – conditions where gravity is not non-existent, but rather incredibly low – P&G can test the Tide in a way it hasn’t before, testing products for stability, durability and how well they behave over time. This is an important opportunity to test the product, added Sivik.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule launches from Pad-39A on the Crew 5 mission, carrying Crew Commander Nicole Mann, pilot Josh Cassada, Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina and mission specialist Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to the International Space Station from NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, October 5, 2022. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule launches from Pad-39A on the Crew 5 mission, carrying Crew Commander Nicole Mann, pilot Josh Cassada, Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina and mission specialist Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to the International Space Station from NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, October 5, 2022. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

“It lowers the cost of accessing space”

Roberts has spoken highly of ISS collaborators, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which he says has helped usher in an era where travel to space is cheaper.

“For the first time in history, we have frequent access to space thanks to the activities of SpaceX and Cygnus, operated by Northrop Grumman, and the new player Sierra Space coming online soon,” he said. “There are many ways to get cargo, crew and people to the International Space Station and beyond, so we want to expand that even more in the future.”

For example, according to Roberts, SpaceX’s reusable rockets have completely changed everyday life and operations at the Kennedy Space Center. Kennedy.

“We continue to be benefactors of the great advances made by SpaceX and other companies,” he added. “The ability to reuse spacecraft has completely changed where I live, near the Kennedy Space Center. Kennedy in Florida. So now we have launches that come out every week or every other week, and the great thing is that the launch part comes back every time they launch something. This has greatly benefited everyone as it lowered the cost of accessing space.

Roberts’ case is this – even though the ISS will cease to operate in the 2030s, there is unique research and development that companies can do on the ISS today that could have implications for future missions.

“The International Space Station will be operational until roughly 2030, but that won’t be the end of it,” Roberts said. “There will be commercial platforms operating in space that will join the space station from China, offering access to space for people around the world.”

Allie Garfinkle is a senior technical reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks.

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