Making Space-Based Research More Affordable—With a Little Help From the Girl Scouts

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle is pictured docked to the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. (Credit: NASA TV)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla,, August 25, 2021 (CASIS PR) – Using ants, plants, and even brine shrimp, a group of Girl Scouts will be among the first researchers to help test a new autonomous research platform on the International Space Station (ISS) that is helping to expand the affordability of microgravity research. 

The Faraday Research Facility, developed by ISS U.S. National Laboratory Commercial Service Provider ProXopS, LLC., will launch on SpaceX’s upcoming 23rd Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission. If validated, the platform—capable of housing up to 12 remotely operated “microlab” experiments—could provide a cost- and resource-effective way to transport, conduct, and return spaceflight investigations.  

The Faraday Research Facility was designed to support a wide variety of scientific research from diverse investigators and student researchers. On this mission, the facility will support research from the Houston Methodist Research Institute and the Second Baptist School in Houston, as well as a trio of projects designed by winners of the 2020 Making Space for Girls space exploration challenge. More than 680 Girl Scouts submitted ideas for spaceflight experiments, space-themed art, and space-related essays through the competition, organized by SpaceKids Global and  ProXopS in partnership with the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council.  

The winning ideas for a spaceflight experiment have been developed into flight projects that are ready for launch to the ISS. Running the Girl Scouts experiments in the Faraday Research Facility will allow ProXopS to test the platform’s capabilities while helping inspire young women to pursue interests—and hopefully careers—in space-related fields, said ProXopS Faraday Research Facility Mission Manager Jeff Fitch. 

“If we can cement kids at a young age into thinking they can be scientists, into thinking science is cool, we might get more engineers and scientists coming out of college. That’s what we need right now,” Fitch said. 

One of the Girl Scouts experiments will examine how tomatoes, peppers, and lemongrass grow in microgravity. Another will assess the tunneling behavior of ants in space, in the hopes that ants could someday help aerate the soil for crops grown on other planets. The third will incubate and sustain a colony of brine shrimp, popularized as “sea monkeys,” to see whether other crustaceans could be raised in space as a fresh protein source for future astronauts. 

In the Faraday Research Facility, the specimens will be watered and fed remotely and autonomously, controlled by a team back on Earth with minimal crew interaction. Images taken with the platform’s internal cameras will be transmitted daily so the scouts can monitor the progress of their experiments and compare the spaceflight samples with their control experiments on the ground. At the end of the mission, the Faraday Research Facility will safely return the samples to Earth for further analysis. 

“The Making Space for Girls program developed by SpaceKids Global and our Council is intent on inspiring the next generation of female leaders in the space industry,” said Maryann Barry, Girl Scouts of Citrus CEO. “Our 2020 ISS Mission Challenge, which could not have been accomplished without the tremendous support of ProXopS, offered participating girls a life-changing, hands-on opportunity to become part of the space industry’s scientific community.” 

If successfully validated, the Faraday Research Facility—with its flexibility, customizability, and  economy of scale—could drastically reduce the cost of sending experiments into space,  Brinkley stated. This cost reduction could enable researchers and educators to conduct multiple spaceflight investigations, honing their research. 

“Being repeatable and scalable is all tied to being able to mature your science,” Brinkley said. “We wanted the Faraday Research Facility to be a simple and affordable solution to enable repeatable spaceflight research that fosters a long-term research strategy.” 

To learn about the other payloads the Faraday platform will support on its upcoming flight—including potentially game-changing biomedical technology from the Houston Methodist Research Institute—visit the ISS National Lab’s SpaceX CRS-23 launch page here

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About the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory: The International Space Station (ISS) is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that enables research and technology development not possible on Earth. As a public service enterprise, the ISS National Lab allows researchers to leverage this multiuser facility to improve life on Earth, mature space-based business models, advance science literacy in the future workforce, and expand a sustainable and scalable market in low Earth orbit. Through this orbiting national laboratory, research resources on the ISS are available to support non-NASA science, technology and education initiatives from U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) manages the ISS National Lab, under Cooperative Agreement with NASA, facilitating access to its permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. To learn more about the ISS National Lab, visit www.ISSNationalLab.org.