Would you like to perform biology experiments on the International Space Station (ISS)? The European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) is an acknowledged facility for such experiments. Below you will find information helpful for designing a new experiment for the EMCS facility onboard the ISS.
Announcement of Opportunity (AO)
The European Space Agency (ESA) issues Announcements of Opportunity at regular intervals. These are the official access route for institutional users to the utilization of the various research facilities which are managed by ESA's Directorate of Human Spaceflight.
Some announcements are internationally coordinated with other ISS partners. This is for example the case in specific areas of life and physical sciences. The announcements of Opportunity are posted on www.esa.int and associated documents including submission template will usually accompany the announcement.
How to prepare for the next AOThe ESA Announcement of Opportunity (AO) will present a detailed guideline for proposing an experiment, but it is recommended to start preparing already before it is published. As part of this preparation you need to know the tools available to test your hypothesis in space: You may want to know about the capability of the growth facility and other supporting equipment available; e.g. volume available for your samples, how can you monitor and control the growth conditions during the experiment, what are the current possibilities for sample preservation, etc. Below you can learn more about the experiment unique equipment designed to the EMCS, called Gravi, Tropi and Multigen. The names reflect the first experiment performed using the equipment, and you can read more about the experiment performed here. An overview of the capabilities of the growth facility and equipment are given below:
|Arabidopsis thaliana plant developmental stage
||Germination, vegetative stage (approximately 12 days)
||Germination, early vegetative stage (approx. 5-6 days)
||Generative stage (seed-to-seed)|
|Experiment equipment dimensions
2 cultivation chambers:
5 seed cassettes:
One plant cultivation chamber. Volume available for shoot: 60x60x110 mm
Volume available for roots: 30cm3
||Zeolite enriched with MS medium|
||Internal in the EC; blue LEDs (450 nm, 40 μmol m-2 s-1)and red LEDs (660 nm, 10 μmol m-2 s-1)
|Preservation of samples
||Slow freezing after removing samples from EMCS or
chemical fixation (e.g. PFA, GA or RNALater) on the running EMCS rotors
|Slow freezing of
samples after removal from EMCS ECs or
chemical fixation (e.g. PFA, GA or RNALater) by insertion of seed cassettes into Fix Box after removal from EMCS ECs
The fixated samples can be cooled or frozen
|Drying of grown plants on the running EMCS rotors or chemical fixation (e.g. PFA, GA or RNALater) of plants by inserting them into Kennedy Fixation Tubes |
The fixated samples can be cooled or frozen
||Hydrated manually by the astronauts via syringes before experiment containers are inserted into the EMCS.
||Built-in water bellows internally to the experiment equipment that can be activated once when the experiment is installed into EMCS.
||Utilize the EMCS water tank, both for initial hydration and subsequent hydrations throughout the run. |
EUE = Experiment Unique Equipment
The table below gives an overview of the general EMCS facility capabilities:
||The Experiment Containers are 60x60x160 mm and will hold specialized experiment unique equipment designed for the scientific goals of each science team.
There are 8 experiment container positions on the EMCS, 4 on each of the two EMCS rotors.
||There are LED panels above each of the 8 EC positions of the EMCS. Each of these can be controlled individually and set to either on in full intensity (75 W/m2 in the PAR range), off, on in reduced mode (2/3 of full intensity) or infrared light
Illumination in an on/off day/night cycle can be automated. Day/night cycle must be the same for all experiment containers.
Infrared light can be provided from the EMCS cameras as required.
10-3xg to 2xg
All micro-gravity settings between the min and max settings can also be used
|There are two rotors in the EMCS. Each of these two can be set with individual gravity settings and the gravity settings can easily be adjusted throughout the experiment run, adapting to the scientific goals of an experiment|
||The EMCS atmosphere composition can be controlled (N2, O2, CO2), ethylene gas can be removed, and excess CO2 can be removed
||The CO2 level on the ISS is on average 0.45% and due to a leak-rate of the EMCS holding structure this CO2 level will be the most common value chosen for longer EMCS experiments|
||The relative humidity in the EMCS can be set to 30% or 50-80%
||All settings between 50-80 can also be used|
||Adjustable settings for resolution, field of view, zooming capability, NTSC standard, etc.
||Video recordings will usually be downlinked to ground and forwarded to the scientists but the video can also be recorded on tape on the ISS for later download of the tape on return vehicles.|
||Real time still images can be downloaded as often as needed (e.g. every 30 minutes during critical phases of the Tropi experiment)
||Images acquired during loss of signal with the ISS will be downloaded to N-USOC and the scientists as soon as there is signal acquisition again (AOS) |
||Internal EMCS water tank (230 ml per rotor) with distilled water can be used.
||The EMCS water tank will also humidify the EMCS atmosphere to the required relative humidity. |
Teaming up with international scientists including scientists that cooperate with other agencies such as e.g. NASA, should be considered. This is in-line with ESA`s recommendations and will contribute to getting as much and as high quality science results as possible out of the limited boundary conditions such as; the hours astronauts work on the experiment, the mass of equipment to be transported up to ISS and amount and means of samples to be returned to Earth.
If you need additional information please do not hesitate to contact N-USOC directly
Experiment Integration and Operations
The Norwegian User Support and Operations Centre (N-USOC) is responsible for all activities related to the EMCS facility onboard the ISS (defined as the Facility Responsible Centre), both the preparation of the experiment (i.e. integration) and the execution of the experiment on ISS (i.e. operations). N-USOC is involved in the experiment planning even before the experiment unique hardware design is finalized and participates in design reviews and is involved in ground testing of the hardware during hardware development. The process of integrating a biology experiment into the EMCS and the experiment unique hardware for performance onboard the ISS is an interdisciplinary international team effort. The scientists have unique expertise on the scientific goals of the experiments and will usually have years of experience with the chosen test specimens. The payload developer holds unique knowledge of the experiment unique equipment with its potential and performances. The N-USOC has years of experience working with the EMCS and a variety of experiment unique equipment and has thorough insight into the possibilities and limitations of space flight experiments, as well as being born from a university setting with key competence within natural science.
The preparations phase of an EMCS experiment includes ground testing, both at the payload developer site, at the scientists site and at N-USOC. The payload developer tests the experiment unique equipment using ground support equipment. The scientists will usually perform tests at their laboratories, both without any related cultivation equipment and then with the dedicated cultivation equipment, e.g. to verify that there are no biocompatibility issues between the hardware to be used and their chosen samples. N-USOC will always perform a minimum of tests with the experiment integrated into ground models of the EMCS and will by this verify that the various parts of the experiment can perform together as planned. If you use cultivation equipment that has flown previously the entire preparations phase from having your experiment elected by ESA to the time where it is performed onboard the ISS will usually take at least 1 year, depending on the complexity of the experiment and resources that are allocated to the experiment.
During the operations phase the ground support team usually includes N-USOC which will man the EMCS console with one person on 24 hours/7 days a week during the experiment run. The scientists can be present as much as they like, but should be available upon need. The payload developer will also be available upon need.
One of the seats in the N-USOC control room is reserved for the PI-team in case the scientists wish to be present at N-USOC during operations. If this is not desired a user home base can be set up at the scientists own premises through which the science team will receive all necessary data (e.g. illumination state, humidity, temperature, images, video, etc).
Principle Investigator for Tropi-1 and Tropi-2 John Kiss at N-USOC for flight operations