Part of the role of the ISS National Lab is to expand the utilization of the orbiting facility to nontraditional research partners, such as those representing commercial brands or interests. Over the years, unique entities including Budweiser, Cobra Puma Golf, Google, and Apple have all become part of the ISS National Lab community. While each company has had different interests in using the space station, each has helped to craft case studies to entice others to take their research and development to new heights.
At the 2018 ISS Research and Development Conference in July, two additional companies announced their intention to become part of this burgeoning commercial space science community—Delta Faucet Company and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, both with investigations anticipated to launch in the coming year.
Delta Faucet is widely recognized within the home improvement community, as their kitchen and bathroom appliances are featured in thousands of households worldwide. Now, the company seeks to leverage the microgravity environment onboard the space station to enhance their product line and save the consumer money, all while promoting efficient water usage.
Delta Faucet plans to conduct an experiment in association with its proprietary H2Okinetic® shower head technology—which controls water droplet size and speed to create a feeling of increased pressure for the end user while using less water. It does this by enlarging the size of the water drops and increasing their speed. But scientists do not fully understand how gravity affects the formation of water droplets, which could impact the performance of the technology.
By studying water droplet formation and water flow in microgravity, Delta Faucet hopes to learn how they might better control droplet formation and flow to improve their H2Okinetic® technology back on the ground. Their goal—to both enhance the shower experience for customers while also conserving water and energy.
Goodyear is also aiming to leverage the microgravity environment of the space station to potentially improve its product lines. Materials science research plays a critical role in the development of Goodyear’s tires, and the company is interested in studying silica—a key material used to manufacture consumer tires—in microgravity.
Specifically, Goodyear will examine whether silica particle formation in microgravity might reveal new molecular structures of silica that could be used in tire production to improve performance. Goodyear’s investigation could pave the way (pun intended) for the development of consumer tires that are both more reliable and more fuel efficient than those currently available.
Both Delta Faucet and Goodyear represent a growing market of nontraditional users that are seeing the value in sending their research and development to the ISS National Lab to advance their consumer products back on the ground. The hope is that as more of these partnerships are forged, the concept of “nontraditional users” falls by the wayside, revealing these companies as trailblazers of major commercial utilization of the ISS to benefit life on Earth.