Techshot Looks to Put Rodent Centrifuge, Plastic Recycling System & Snap Freezer on ISS

Dragon CRS-4 spacecraft berthed at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA TV)
Dragon CRS-4 spacecraft berthed at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA TV)

An Indiana company is looking to put a rodent centrifuge facility aboard the International Space Station to facility life science and microgravity science research.

Techshot, Inc. of Greenville, Ind., has been selected by NASA for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I award to begin initial work on the facility.

NASA also selected Techshot for SBIR Phase I contracts for a recycling system that would convert waste plastic into filament for 3D printers aboard the space station. A third SBIR award is for the development of a snap freezer that would preserve tissue samples aboard ISS for later analysis.

Full summaries of all three projects are reproduced below.

Under the awards, Techshot will received up to $125,000 for six-month feasibility studies of the projects. Upon completion of the work, Techshot can apply for a SBIR Phase II grant.

“Requiring only minor assembly on orbit, the large Techshot rodent centrifuge will consist of two separate four-locker pieces called quad housing units,” according to the project’s technical abstract. “The centrifuge rotor will accommodate as many as 14 modular rodent cages, which can be customized to accommodate either grouped (28 rats- 200 gram animals, 42 mice- 25 gram animals) or 14 individually-housed rats (up to 400 gram) or mice. Each cage will include ad libitum feeding, automated ad libitum water, LED day/night cycling, forced-air waste collection and environmental control, and continuous video monitoring.”

In its proposal, Techshot said the centrifuge would fulfill vital needs for life science and pharmaceutical research.

“Techshot sees tremendous potential commercial applications for the Rodent Centrifuge Facility (RCF) in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies where life science research holds promise for cell replacement therapies for bioregenerative diseases. Techshot already has been in talks with U.S. biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies regarding long-term rodent research aboard the ISS,” the abstract states.

 

The space plastic recycling system would provide filament for 3D printers aboard ISS.

“Techshot’s proposed Space Plastic Recycler (SPR) is an automated closed loop plastic recycling system that allows the automated conversion of disposable ISS packaging materials into suitable 3D printer filament,” the abstract states. “The SPR includes a receptacle to hold materials to be recycled, a grinding system to cut materials into small pieces, an auger system to transport the shredded material to a heated nozzle and a tension controller to precisely control the diameter of the filament produced. An automatic spooling system will wind the processed filament neatly onto a spool.”

The snap freezer is designed for the rapid freezing of tissue samples without the formation of ice crystals.

“Our product is expected to be of particular interest to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, academic researchers and terrestrial national laboratories, and Techshot is committed to investing in its commercialization,” according to the proposal.

Summaries of all three projects follow.

Rodent Centrifuge Facility for ISS Life
and Microgravity Science Research

Subtopic: International Space Station (ISS) Utilization

Techshot, Inc.
Greenville, IN

Principal Investigator/Program Manager
Mr. John C. Vellinger

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 2
End: 5

Technical Abstract

According to the decadal report titled, Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era of Space Exploration, a Report, “…the AHB Panel would be remiss if it did not strongly recommend an animal centrifuge capable of accommodating rats/mice at variable gravity levels.” In response, Techshot proposes to develop a Rodent Centrifuge Facility (RCF) that utilizes eight EXPRESS Rack locker locations. Requiring only minor assembly on orbit, the large Techshot rodent centrifuge will consist of two separate four-locker pieces called quad housing units. The centrifuge rotor will accommodate as many as 14 modular rodent cages, which can be customized to accommodate either grouped (28 rats- 200 gram animals, 42 mice- 25 gram animals) or 14 individually-housed rats (up to 400 gram) or mice. Each cage will include ad libitum feeding, automated ad libitum water, LED day/night cycling, forced-air waste collection and environmental control, and continuous video monitoring. Animal access will be accomplished by the removal of individual cages, which will fit into a portable glovebox that can be installed on the front of the rodent centrifuge facility or at the ISS Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG). The facility will be designed for a minimum of 30 days of unattended operation, and the accommodation of experiments lasting up to 90 days.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The Rodent Centrifuge Facility (RCF) offers the largest diameter centrifuge research tool flown on ISS. The RCF is a very unique instrument capable of novel life and microgravity science research. Therefore, Techshot’s initial targeted application of the proposed innovation is an offering of both the equipment and services associated with flight hardware and integration activities, which are highly desired by NASA-funded scientists as well as other governmental agencies. Techshot is uniquely qualified to provide these space flight services, just as the company has done for numerous PI’s on a variety of flight experiments for the past 25 years. Techshot is currently preparing to support future ISS experiments for NASA-funded PI’s utilizing the Bone Densitometer flight hardware that Techshot developed and integrated in 2013-14, just as we did for two NASA-funded (i.e. NRA) scientists during the initial experiments on our Avian Development Facility (ADF), which was a key payload of the Space Station Biological Research Project.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

Techshot sees tremendous potential commercial applications for the Rodent Centrifuge Facility (RCF) in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies where life science research holds promise for cell replacement therapies for bioregenerative diseases. Techshot already has been in talks with U.S. biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies regarding long-term rodent research aboard the ISS. Furthermore, the company has begun to establish international connections with commercial entities, where strong interest has been expressed in buying microgravity research tools and opportunities. Just as exciting, Techshot expects to commercialize the RCF by incorporating it into the company’s spaceflight services program it offers to other Government agencies like NIH, NSF, and DoD. In combination with the long list of other proven flight hardware developed by Techshot, the facility is expected to greatly expand the company’s range of services. More importantly, its unique large radius centrifuge capability should further enhance Techshot’s competitive position.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Biophysical Utilization
  • Inertial
  • Machines/Mechanical Subsystems
  • Medical
  • Models & Simulations (see also Testing & Evaluation)
  • Physiological/Psychological Countermeasures
  • Simulation & Modeling

Space Plastic Recycling System
Subtopic: Recycling/Reclamation of 3-D Printer Plastic Including Transformation of Launch Package Solutions into 3-D Printed Parts

Techshot, Inc.
Greenville, IN

Principal Investigator/Program Manager
Mr. Leo A. Shulthise

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 1
End: 4

Technical Abstract

Techshot’s proposed Space Plastic Recycler (SPR) is an automated closed loop plastic recycling system that allows the automated conversion of disposable ISS packaging materials into suitable 3D printer filament. The SPR includes a receptacle to hold materials to be recycled, a grinding system to cut materials into small pieces, an auger system to transport the shredded material to a heated nozzle and a tension controller to precisely control the diameter of the filament produced. An automatic spooling system will wind the processed filament neatly onto a spool.

The SPR includes a method to categorize and label spaceflight packaging materials making them easily identifiable as “print recyclables”. The recycler will use the material label barcodes to automatically configure internal settings to process the material without the need for manual adjustments by the user.

We propose operating and controlling the SPR inside the modular Techshot Multi-purpose Variable-G Platform (MVP). Now in Phase III development, MVP has been designed to house, control and provide environmental control for a wide variety of ISS experiments, including hardware such as the SPR. Operating the SPR inside the MVP offers several advantages, such as temperature and humidity control and the ability to monitor and capture vapors. The MVP also provides an extra layer of containment for noise and EMI. But the primary advantage of operating the SPR inside of the MVP is the reduction of development time and cost by eliminating the need to develop separate housing, control and data acquisition systems. The MVP already includes all of the power, data, control and mounting interfaces needed to operate the SPR. The SPR filtering system will ensure that gases and ultrafine particles are maintained below safe limits. The MVP software will monitor the system and shut it down, should any of the air quality measurements exceed safe limits.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

In support of the travel supply chain model for crewed exploration missions, SPR is being developed as an essential element of a self-sustaining, closed-loop, on-orbit manufacturing process. The ability to repair essential equipment in deep space may be dependent on the ability of the crew to manufacture those components from available materials. And if materials come from packaging, failed or damaged components, and other no longer necessary onboard subsystems, the logistics supply chain will require far less upmass.

Refining and selecting the materials that can be used for their original purpose and still be recycled for re-purposing is the other crucial step in developing the travel supply chain. Understanding the entire inventory of available recyclable materials is the most important first step, which is why Techshot has proposed that task as its initial objective of this Phase I project. However, we also recognize that this material selection process will be an iterative and evolving process as new space-worthy materials for packaging, components, and subsystems are selected. Techshot is eager to be an integral part of the travel supply chain development team in providing guidance as to what materials will work effectively with SPR.

Initial operations on ISS will validate the performance of SPR and serve as a test bed in advance of exploration missions. Techshot will work closely with NASA to ensure it is compatible with all 3D printers selected for flight.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

Industrial customers who want their materials tested and validated for use in components to be employed on deep space missions, may also be interested in preliminary testing of their product in SPR and 3D printers in the ISS test bed. Therefore, these industrial-based suppliers are likely to become second tier customers for Techshot. In addition to marketing ISS test bed services to our own customers, we also anticipate referrals to industrial customers from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). Techshot is an implementation partner of CASIS and has a long standing relationship with them. We anticipate continuing to work with CASIS to identify and facilitate industry users of ISS and our spaceflight hardware technologies. In addition, Techshot sees a strong potential for the SPR to help in advancing innovation in manufacturing – particularly as it relates to extrusion-based additive manufacturing. Since manufacturing advancements have been encouraged by Presidential Executive Order 13329, which states to give “high priority” to advanced manufacturing-related research within the SBIR program, this proposal qualifies as an important manufacturing improvement initiative. Furthermore, Techshot foresees the potential to improve industrial energy efficiency by developing more efficient equipment and processes used in industry. This further promotes the priority of our SPR proposal under the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, section 1203.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Conversion
  • In Situ Manufacturing
  • Machines/Mechanical Subsystems
  • Manufacturing Methods
  • Material Handing & Packaging
  • Microfabrication (and smaller; see also Electronics; Mechanical Systems; Photonics)
  • Polymers
  • Processing Methods
  • Resource Extraction
  • Spacecraft Design, Construction, Testing, & Performance (see also Engineering; Testing & Evaluation)

Snap Freezer for ISS
Subtopic: International Space Station (ISS) Utilization

Techshot, Inc.
Greenville, IN

Principal Investigator/Program Manager
Dr. Eugene Boland

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 5

Technical Abstract

Frozen tissue samples represent the state of the art in tissue preservation in many molecular analysis techniques as well as in in membrane analysis using free-fracture techniques. Rapid or snap freezing eliminates the artifact caused by ice crystal formation within the tissues. Ice crystal nucleation and growth occurs between 0 degrees C and -20 degrees C typically. To avoid this damage and minimize destruction of proteins, RNA and DNA by lytic enzymes, cells or tissues have to be rapidly cooled through this temperature band. This is typically done in an isopentane bath cooled by liquid nitrogen (LN2) to -150 degrees C. This 2 step process eliminates artifacts caused by ice nucleation as well as artifacts caused by nitrogen bubbles that surround the tissue as it boils if submerged directly into LN2. While these open methods are acceptable for terrestrial laboratories, they would not be compatible with experimentation on the International Space Station. Our proposed argon based Snap Freezer clamp would provide an alternative means to rapid cool through ice crystal nucleation and growth temperatures without exposing the crew to the spill hazards of LN2 and chilled isopentane as well as the extreme flammability of isopentane.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

Techshot has a more than 25-year-history of developing and integrating spaceflight hardware, and it serves as an official Implementation Partner to NASA and CASIS. The company’s success with microgravity facilities such as the Avian Development Facility, the Advanced Space Experiment Processor and the Bone Densitometer position it as a leader in offering these unique services. When coupled with the innovative capabilities of other research devices aboard the ISS, the Snap Freezer will give NASA an even greater ability to serve the investigator community it supports. Furthermore, with the ability of commercial launch vehicles to get more experiment samples into orbit, the economics of transporting and processing materials in microgravity should become far more compelling. Eventually, given sufficient economical commercial launch vehicle transporting capacity, when coupled with Techshot’s cadre of space processing equipment, the Snap Freezer could become an important tool for processing larger quantities of high-value materials for NASA customers aboard ISS.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial ApplicationsS

Our product is expected to be of particular interest to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, academic researchers and terrestrial national laboratories, and Techshot is committed to investing in its commercialization. Beginning with this Phase I award, the company will build a technology demonstrator with internal funds. While typical laboratories snap freeze tissues by plunging specimens into liquid nitrogen or an isopentane bath chilled by liquid nitrogen, this may not be compatible with all experimental protocols or facility safety standards, which will provide commercial opportunities. Much like the safety concerns on the ISS, significant burn hazards exist from liquid nitrogen spills and isopentane is an extremely flammable liquid. When these conditions exist in terrestrial labs, researchers use cold blocks to freeze samples. But even actively-cooled plates in cryostats do not typically reach temperatures sufficient for effective snap freezing. This may not freeze sensitive or thick tissues at a fast enough rate to preserve the most sensitive DNA, RNA, proteins and crystal structures.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Analytical Methods
  • Biological (see also Biological Health/Life Support)
  • Contact/Mechanical
  • Cryogenic/Fluid Systems
  • Heat Exchange
  • Organics/Biomaterials/Hybrids
  • Thermal

  • Kapitalist

    Recycled frozen centrifuged rats in space? Well, where else. (I’m just making fun of the headline here, sorry)

  • Aerospike

    “rodent centrifuge” is that the scientific term for hamster wheel? 😀

  • DavidR2015

    If you read the description a bit more you can see that it will be several cages in the centrifuge not just one rodent. So a whole rodent village will experience the centrifuge for extended periods of time.

  • windbourne

    Awesome.
    Doing variable G research is EXACTLY what ISS should be doing. It was the single most important item that the ISS was supposed to do, until W’s admin killed it.

    Now, if we restore this capability, we can find out how mice/rats will do with 1/6 G and then later 1/3 G. While most will be dissected to see how they change physically, I will be interested in see some live ones brought back to earth after spending say 1-2 years in orbit at 1/6 G. Also would like to see them do a 6 month 0-G and then be put on a 1/3 G.

    So many studies that need to be done before we head to mars.
    And ideally, we need to do a lot more to find out what 1/6 G will do it life.

  • Aerospike

    That was just a blunt joke 😉

  • Kirk

    .. the large Techshot rodent centrifuge will consist of two separate four-locker pieces called quad housing units.

    I’ve not been able to discover the radius of the proposed rodent centrifuge. Does anyone here know?

  • Kapitalist

    Even when a centrifuge lab for the ISS is actually being built, NASA refuses to launch it, so it became a museum piece instead. I don¨t understand why the highest priority of NASA is to never do any experiment with simulated gravity, to instead keep torturing their employees in health destroying microgravity. It is the doctor Mengele policy.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrifuge_Accommodations_Module

  • Kapitalist

    A hamster wheel could actually be the perfect exercise equipment for astronauts in microgravity! They have to work out 4 hours a day to mildly slow down the deterioration of their muscles. Conventional exercise equipment doesn’t work in microgravity, it has to be specially designed heavy equipment. And after a few month the long daily routine of using it, isn’t very popular among the crew. I’ve read that almost all of them cheat with their exercise schedule.

  • therealdmt

    And reproduction studies

  • Aerospike

    A (self propelled) “hamster wheel” doesn’t work in microgravity, just as any other “conventional” exercise equipment. It needs gravity to pull the rodent/astronaut down. It is just a different form of a treadmill, you just run inside a rigid loop instead of on top of a flexible one.

    So we are back to the drawing board and realize that we need a centrifuge anyway.

  • JimNobles

    People might disagree but I think it is basically because there is a strong contingent, in and out of NASA, that simply doesn’t believe in anything except Moon trips. Their thinking is that a few days in micro-gravity then a month or so in one sixth gravity then a few days back in micro-gravity doesn’t really require the type of research a centrifuge provides. That’s my take on it anyway.

  • JimNobles

    A largish wheel that you worked out in like it was a circular ladder would work wouldn’t it? Using all fours, feet and hands?
    You’d basically be grabbing rungs with your hands and pulling them down while also pushing lower rungs down with your feet and legs. Depending on the physical properties of the set-up it might look like you were climbing at the same time the wheel was turning but you’d still be getting a workout. That makes sense doesn’t it?

  • windbourne

    Yup. Very important part if we are going to move off earth.
    Personally, I would not object if NASA had the astronauts do personal studies.

  • Aerospike

    I think I understand your idea, but where is the difference whether that circular ladder is able to rotate or not? You could just climb around in circles in microgravity, since there is no up/down anyway. Letting the circular ladder spin as a reaction to your actions would probably make it a bit more challenging (unless the ladder is enclosed so that you can’t see the static background), but it would not simulate gravity like a centrifuge would.

    Still, that is an interesting question: I’m in a centrifuge that rotates at a speed that simulates 1g for me. If I start running against that rotation (for example as a way to exercise), would that mean that the simulated effect of gravity on my body is reduced according to the reduced “rotation speed” I have as viewed from an external observer?

  • DTARS

    Agree the knowledge is important. But maybe we should just go there and see. Could do the studies forever. I AGREE they should have already been done!

  • therealdmt

    Lol! One has to wonder — just what has gone on up there?

  • Kapitalist

    Yeah, but then it is a bit strange that they think that 6 month to 12 month long stay on the ISS is so important. Maybe because launches to change the crew are so expensive?

  • Kapitalist

    Exactly! And having to do that a few hours everyday will make no one want to go to Mars, not even Elon himself. There must be some better way.

  • windbourne

    Well, this will be shot down by others, but I believe that it would be irresponsible of NASA if they have not allowed some sex up there. Basically, if we as a species are going to go to space, we have to know what to expect.

  • Hug Doug

    Rule 34

    It’s already been done and is available for download on the internet.

    (not by NASA, but you know. does that really matter?)