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Biotechnology for Human Exploration of Space

Advanced biomedical and biological technology for space exploration


The primary goal of this research mission is to assist the Astrobionics Office (ABO) in the development and insertion of advanced biomedical and biological technologies into NASA’s space exploration programs and missions. The University of California’s creativity and expertise supports the rapid growth of ARC’s core capacity in these areas. This research includes advanced concepts research and technology development; technology integration, research product development; advanced and strategic planning and coordination and associated task management.

The T4HSE projects are intended to provide a design queue from which state-of-the art prototypes continually emerge. While some of the demonstration products proceed immediately to formal production (as with GeneBox and GeneSat-1 optics), many prototypes provide the foundation needed to propose new bioanalytical tools. Recent completed and ongoing research subtasks are summarized below.

GeneSat Optics

Explore several design options for future GeneSat optical modules, including the building of prototypes as funding allows. It will begin the design of a more advanced optics assay system, capable of monitoring both fluorescence and scattering, and several enhanced features. The first of these will be the incorporation of fiber optics into the existing GeneSat architecture. The original GeneSat-1 optical project designed and built both a fluorescence imaging prototype and a fluorescence intensity detection prototype, including extensive advanced design of a flight-worthy version and subsequent comprehensive environmental and functional testing.

Advanced Technology Development (ATD) Optics

Provide conceptual and prototype design and demonstration of specific ATD Optics projects currently under development in the Astrobionics program.

Advanced Prototypes Lab

Provide a design queue from which state-of-the art biophotonic prototypes continually emerge. Prototypes considered during this task period include:

  • MicroArray Growth Assay
  • Rotating Disk Analysis System (RDAS) Miniaturization
  • Miniaturized Fluorescence Imager
  • Bioluminescent Yeast

Program/Project Formulation and Implementation, Systems Engineering Support

Provide support for several ABO projects, including

  • Astrobionics Technology Group (ABO)—Exploration Probes and Small Satellites (EPSS)
  • Human Research Program (HRP) - Exploration Medical Capabilities (ExMC)

Rodent Biotelemetry System (RBS)

Provide top-level design for an implantable transceiver for use in the ABO’s RBS, a bidirectional telemetry system capable of accepting commands and transmitting physiological data to an external receiver. This is part of a Phase A feasibility study in collaboration with ABO personnel.

Automatic Microfluidic CD for Gene Expression

Develop and expand the demonstrated capabilities of the CD laboratory platform as a 1G control environment for use in the study and testing of in sítu biological instrumentation systems. The task includes additional testing and demonstration of cell and small organism cultivation, cell viability determination, sample preparation and PCR and DNA hybridization and detection. It will also build on the CD platform technology to integrate several microfluidic functions and demonstrate the CD as a platform for automated multiple parallel processing needs in high-throughput screening (HTS).

ABO/UARC Liaison

Survey research throughout the UC System and develop a technology-integration system to assist with the evaluation of technologies and their relevance to ABO mission needs, particularly those which use existing technology in new ways. Areas of possible interest include:

  • Biophotonics
  • Biofluidics, BioMEM
  • Microsensors, MEMS
  • Implantable/fetal biotelemetry
  • Biotechnology/Bionanotechnology
  • In-sítu biological technologies for satellite/planetary exploration R&D
  • Environmental monitoring and control technologies for exploration
  • Medical devices, instruments, and technologies
  • Biomolecular sensors and technologies
  • Autonomous, free-flying biosatellites

Technical Interchange Meetings (TIMs)

Organize a series of Technical Interchange Meetings (TIMs) on topics of relevance to ABO activities (including topics listed above). The TIMs facilitate the interactions and awareness of both NASA and UC specialists and managers related to possible collaborative activities and projects.

Cellular Biomarkers for Assessment/Correlation of Molecular and Electrophysiological Performance

Study the effect of microgravity and radiation stresses on cardiovascular cell function, mapping tissue level physiological activity with molecular scale protein expression and monitoring this activity through the use of fluorescent indicators and molecular markers. This subtask supports the NASA GenSat free flyer project.

Microfluidic Picoliter Droplet Array Bioassays (DAB)

Explore the possibility of developing various devices and tools to monitor crew health. One such device is a system with multi-analyte detection based on microfluidic picoliter droplet array bioassays (DAB) for point-of-care saliva diagnostics during space travel. The objective is to make oral fluids diagnostics a routine procedure in monitoring the health of astronauts for long duration space travel.

Microtechnology Investigation

Explore a range of microtechnology research projects to determine their degree of maturity and suitability for the ABO mission, including:

  • Microfluidic optical devices
  • Biophotonic devices
  • Fluorescent microscopy on-a-chip
  • Integrated microfluidic patch-clamp array chip
  • Biologically inspired omnidirectional sensors

Smart Autonomous Bioanalytical Laboratory (SABL)

Explore the feasibility of a Smart Autonomous Bioanalytical Laboratory (SABL) as a future payload element for in-sítu space biological research. Define basic needs and approaches, including:

  • Development of scientific strategies and flight experiments to collect data on gene expression and other cell biology functions in response to the space environment.
  • Conceptual development of a biological research facility (SABL) suitable for a trip to Mars, including payload systems, habitat and life support subsystems, autonomous specimen collection, handling and archiving, in-sítu bioanalytical detection, in-sítu genetics and implantable biotelemetry for small organisms.

Research Coordination

Identify biotechnology research areas at the University of California that correlate well with mission requirements of the NASA Astrobionics (ABO) program. This subtask provides program/project management and technology expertise for hardware development activities that support the goal of automated, in-sítu space exploration instrumentation for human diagnostics/monitoring and biological research activities.

RLEP Mission Concept Feasibility Study

Conduct a conceptual feasibility study to recommend a low-cost spaceflight mission for the Robotic Lunar Exploration Program (RLEP) that addresses one or more of RLEPs mission objectives. The feasibility study includes the mission objectives, system architecture, instrument and payload configuration, recommended instruments, and mission operations timelines and science objectives.



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