In FY23, the ISS National Lab continued to maximize space station utilization by facilitating access for a wide variety of users to conduct R&D that provides value to humanity and expands the LEO economy. This year, 113 ISS National Lab-sponsored payloads were delivered to station—the most ever in a single fiscal year. Of these, more than 80 percent were from commercial entities, demonstrating a continued interest in and growing demand for space-based R&D among industry users. Since transition to CASIS management in 2012, the ISS National Lab has sponsored more than 700 payloads that have been delivered to station.
In FY23, five Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) missions (Northrop Grumman (NG)-18, SpaceX CRS-26, SpaceX CRS-27, SpaceX CRS-28, and NG-19) carried ISS National Lab-sponsored payloads to the space station. Additionally, astronauts that launched to station on three commercial crew missions (SpaceX Crew-5, SpaceX Crew-6, and SpaceX Crew-7) worked on many ISS National Lab-sponsored investigations during their time on the ISS. The second all-private astronaut mission, Axiom Mission 2, also launched to station in FY23, carrying more than 20 payloads sponsored by the ISS National Lab.
“Thanks to the access provided by the ISS National Lab, we can advance our mission to improve the quality of our drug products and identify new types of drugs to meet the unmet medical needs of our patients. It really opens the horizons and allows us to be innovative in our work.”
– Robert Garmise, Associate Director of Material Science and Engineering, Bristol Myers Squibb
This year, many industry partners conducted R&D on station—from large commercial companies to innovative startups that were awarded the Technology in Space Prize (funded by CASIS and Boeing in partnership with the MassChallenge startup accelerator program):
- Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. tested a high-resolution camera system to guide the design of cameras that will capture space imagery on future missions for the MSG Sphere in Las Vegas.
- The Aerospace Corporation launched the world’s first and only space-based hacking sandbox, a type of cyber security technology that enables testing to identify methods for preventing the hacking of satellite systems.
- Startup RevBio (formerly LaunchPad Medical) continued research on its proprietary, patented bone adhesive, Tetranite, to heal fractured bones faster.
- Startup MakerHealth explored ways to optimize its modular biochemical manufacturing platform, AmpliRX, which could significantly reduce the cost of drug manufacturing.
- Startup Axonis used a 3D self-assembled human brain model to advance neurological disease modeling that could lead to new treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Multiple investigations that launched in FY23 sought to advance the key focus area of in-space production applications, for example:
- Global pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb aimed to produce improved crystallized biotherapeutic compounds in space to refine drug formulation and enhance patient products.
- Redwire Corporation’s BioFabrication Facility (BFF) produced the first full-sized, 3D printed human meniscus (knee cartilage) in space, opening the door to new treatments for meniscal injuries.
- Startup LambdaVision continued research to develop its protein-based artificial retina to restore vision in patients blinded by degenerative eye diseases.
- Stanford University launched a semiconductor investigation to improve the synthesis of materials for devices that convert sunlight into electricity for solar energy applications.
“With the support of the ISS National Lab and NASA, LambdaVision has been fortunate to fly eight missions to the ISS since 2018. These flight opportunities have allowed us to make significant progress on the in-space production capabilities of our protein-based artificial retina, which has enabled further development and commercialization of the technology. We are grateful for this partnership and look forward to additional flights in 2024.”
– Nicole Wagner, CEO of LambdaVision
U.S. government agencies continued to support space-based fundamental science, for example:
- NIH-funded cardiac tissue chip studies from Johns Hopkins and Stanford University aimed to improve heart failure modeling that could lead to new heart disease treatments.
- An NSF-funded project from Emory University continued research examining heart muscle cells as they mature into tissue-like structures for regenerative medicine applications.
- An NSF-funded project from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute continued research to improve the efficiency of heat pipes used to prevent electronics from overheating.
- An NSF-funded project from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley aimed to produce superior graphene aerogel materials that can be used to develop better batteries, improve oil spill cleanup methods, and create next-generation space suits.
In-orbit activities included studies from several academic and research institutions, for example:
- Sanford Stem Cell Institute continued its space-based cancer research with two projects, one exploring how cancer spreads and the other investigating new cancer treatments.
- Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine studied bioengineered liver and kidney tissues on station to lay the foundation for future in-space production of human tissues.
- The University of Southern California used Astrobee robots to test a new autonomous spacecraft docking system.
“BioServe Space Technologies has successfully partnered with the ISS National Lab on more than 35 spaceflight projects supporting a wide range of life sciences including mammalian cell culture, organoids, engineered tissues, organ-on-a-chip, protein crystal growth, and drug delivery. Together BioServe and the ISS National Lab are creating the foundation for utilizing the microgravity environment to benefit humanity.”
– Stefanie Countryman, Director of BioServe Space Technologies
Multiple student-led research projects also launched this year, for example:
- A Genes in Space™ student project tested a new method for measuring DNA length in space, expanding the research capabilities available on station.
- Student investigations from the STARWard STEM program and Student Spaceflight Experiments Program focused on a variety of topics, such as microgravity’s effects on seed germination and microbial solutions for food waste.
Examples of in-orbit activities for projects supported by Commercial Service Providers include:
- BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado Boulder partnered with Sierra Space on a project to validate in-space stem cell production for clinical applications.
- Aegis Aerospace supported a project from L3Harris Technologies that used the MISSE Flight Facility to test 3D printed materials for satellite manufacturing.
- In a project supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rhodium Scientific and the University of Florida studied microgravity’s effects on the production of therapeutics derived from bacteria and yeast.
This year, crew time intensive solar array upgrade missions affected ISS National Lab crew time utilization (around 60%, compared with 73% last year). However, the ISS National Lab utilized nearly 785 crew time hours in FY23, which is only slightly lower than the previous five-year average.