Published: July 18, 2016
SpaceX Dragon capsule.

SpaceX Dragon

High-tech space hardware designed and built at the University of Colorado Boulder for biomedical experiments was successfully launched aboard the commercial SpaceX Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) early this morning.

Developed by BioServe Space Technologies, a center headquartered in the aerospace engineering sciences department, the hardware will support experiments ranging from the mitigation of bone loss in space to the effects of low gravity on stem cell-derived heart cells.  

The BioServe hardware includes a customized laboratory microscope that will allow researchers on ISS to observe differences between biological structures that have similar levels of transparency, said BioServe Director Louis Stodieck. In addition, researchers and students at the NASA-sponsored center developed an atmosphere control module that will enable the successful culturing of mammalian cells in orbit.

A Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX carried the Dragon capsule into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at roughly 12:45 a.m. EDT on Monday, July 18.

The bone loss mitigation experiment is being directed by University of Minnesota Professor Bruce Hammer to test the accuracy of a new device that simulates microgravity for cell and tissue cultures by manipulating magnetic fields in space. The heart experiment, led by doctoral student Arun Sharma of Stanford University, is designed to measure shape and behavior changes in heart cells in microgravity, research that has implications for both astronauts and people on Earth, said Stodieck.

BioServe researchers and students have flown hardware and experiments on more than 50 missions aboard NASA space shuttles, the ISS and on Russian and Japanese government cargo rockets. BioServe previously has flown payloads on commercial cargo rockets developed by both SpaceX, headquartered in Hawthorne, California, and Orbital ATK, Inc. headquartered in Dulles, Virginia.

Experiments in the microgravity of space are valuable for both research and education, said BioServe engineer Shankini Doraisingam. By conducting experiments in microgravity, scientists can learn more about biochemical changes in cells and organisms that the force of gravity on Earth may be masking, she said.

The first stage of the rocket was successfully landed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida following the successful launch of the Dragon Capsule toward ISS.

Since its inception in 1987, BioServe has partnered with more than 100 companies and performed dozens of NASA-sponsored investigations, said Stodieck.

In addition to scientific research, BioServe has been involved in a number of educational experiments involving developing butterflies and web-spinning spiders in space that have reached thousands of K-12 students around the world, said BioServe Associate Director Stefanie Countryman.

BioServe partners include large and small pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, universities and NASA-funded researchers. Both undergraduate and graduate CU Boulder students are involved in BioServe research efforts.

For more information

Louis Stodieck, 303-492-4010
Stefanie Countryman, 303-735-5308
Shankini Doraisingam, 303-492-3677
Jim Scott, CU-Boulder media relations, 303-492-3114