Samara University is Developing a Biomodule for Nanosatellites

02.05.2017, 11:09

For conducting biological experiments in circumterrestrial orbit the team of researchers at the Samara University is performing laboratory-testing measuring the capacity of an automatic module prototype. The biomodule is being created in accordance with Cubesat standards and is intended to be flown on board the nanosatellite or small spacecraft.
So far,  nano-satellites have been mainly used to study the Earth's surface and the Earth's atmosphere, as well as outer space and the factors of its impact on technogenic objects.In the scientific literature, only three experiments with the objects of wildlife, performing on the nano-satellites class spacecraft, are described.
At present, biological researches in orbit are conducted mainly either on board the ISS, or on large scientific satellites, such as Russian spacecrafts of the Bion series.In view of the complexity of creating such spacecrafts, they are not often launched: the previous Bion-M was sent into orbit in 2013, and the launch of the next one is expected not earlier than in 2021.
The use of nanosatellites makes it possible to increase the efficiency of biological researches at the expense of relatively low cost of conducting experiments and increasing their number and, as a result, the possibility of rapid adjusting the research programme based on the obtained results. In addition, nanosatellites enable the organization of test experiments in order to develop methods and techniques for biological researches on Bion class satellites, and also allow to create experimental conditions that are different from the conditions on the ISS (for example, reduced microgravity due to low self-mass and increased radiation background).
The possibility of implementing biological experiments on unexplored orbits and parts of space is important as well. For example, under the lunar program, bionanosatellites can be withdrawn on different sections of the Earth-Moon flight route. This will make it possible to study the influence of outer space conditions that are difficult to model on the Earth, and knowledge of which is extremely important for planning a long interplanetary manned flight and (or) organization of the Moon Base.
As part of the work on the creation of the biomodule, a number of biological experiments were conducted to select test bioobjects, which provide the sudy of  life cycle special features and potential candidate metabolism for a demonstration experiment in space - insects, higher plants, algae, unicellular and multicellular fungi, bacteria, protozoa, rotifers, worms, mites and insects.The means for monitoring the state of bioobjects and their life support system were developed.The obtained results allowed to form the concept of a universal biological module for nanosatellites of the SAMSAT family, which will allow to carry out researches in the field of both fundamental and applied issues of biology and medicine.
Applied aspects concern the production of food and medicines, building materials and fuel in space conditions, as well as the creation of livable conditions and their restoration in case of malfunctions or accidents.In the future, it doesn’t concern only the basic components of an inhabited environment –  some studied organisms can be used to produce high-tech membranes, filters, films and sensors. Nanosatellite carriers of biomodules are not only a springboard for preliminary researches, but also an independent scientific and technical project that will allow to obtain important data in such areas as evolution theory, genetics, ecology, paleoecology, bionics, biotechnology, ethology, etc.
Despite the fact that the biomodule being developed by Samara scientists is limited in dimensions (75x75x135 mm), mass (up to 3.5 kg), energy consumption and amount of information transmitted to the Earth (up to 1 megabyte per day), it includes several quite complicated functions systems. They allow to control the gas composition of the medium, pressure, temperature and humidity in a closed volume, to photograph the stages of development of bioobjects in automatic mode, adjust the temperature and their illumination manually or according to a specified program, and to store and to transmit the results of the experiments to the mission control center for the further analysis.
According to the project manager, the Head of Laser and Biotechnical Systems Department of Samara University, Valery Zakharov, the prototype of the biomodule is being tested in the laboratory now.After conducting a full cycle test, a demonstration experiment in orbit is planned. The reaction of various bioobjects to the action of space environment factors will be studied in it. 
Successful implementation of the experiment will allow Samara University to offer both Russian and abroad interested parties, a universal platform that has a wide range of functions for conducting various biomedical researches in space.
For the record
For Samara University, the creation of small spacecraft-laboratories on the basis of unified platforms of various masses and powering is the backbone of scientific researches and training of specialists.Together with the strategic partner –  Progress Rocket Space Centre, the University created an orbit group of small spacecrafts for scientific and educational purposes of the AIST series.This group has been operating since 2013 and is a part of a distributed space laboratory with ground and space segments. At present in orbit there are two small spacecrafts  "AIST" of the first generation and a small spacecraft of Earth remote sensing "AIST-2D".
These satellites implemented a number of experiments in the field of studying the influence of various factors of outer space on objects of terrestrial origin with the help of scientific equipment created by Samara University scientists, including the following:
  • mass spectrometric sensor analyzes small spacecraft’s external atmosphere;
  • the particle sensor serves to study the processes of gradual destruction of surface elements samples under the influence of space environment;
  • combined equipment is designed to study the parameters of solar and lithium batteries, as well as fiber-optic displacement sensors;
  • microacceleration compensator solves the problems of orientation and stabilization of a small spacecraft in outer space;
  • the Meteor-M complex is intended for studying micrometeorites and particles of space debris.
Futhermore, at the developed by Progress Rocket Space Centre Bion-M Spacecraft the biologists of Samara University, conducted an experiment to study the possibility of creating a reserve storage of seeds of terrestrial plants, the so-called orbital seed banks, in space. They sent the seeds of wild plants into orbit, exposing them to the effects of space factors. Upon their return to the Earth, these seeds were planted in the open field of the Botanical Garden of Samara University. As observations have shown, the plants obtained from the seeds that were on the surface of the spacecraft (without protection from radiation and with a minimum level of microgravity) occurred to be not weaker than their counterparts from the Earth.