After 23 days docked to the International Space Station (ISS), the Dragon spacecraft supporting SpaceX’s 28th Commercial Resupply Services mission returned to Earth on June 30. The cargo capsule was packed with a host of research investigations, many of which were sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory to improve lives on Earth and enable a robust economy in low Earth orbit.
Here’s a look back at some of the science payloads that recently returned to Earth.
Ring Shear Drop
A project from a team of researchers at Arizona State University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute examined how fluids behave in microgravity. The project, which was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, aims to understand fluid forces that can lead to protein aggregation (clustering) during drug development. The team observed how droplets form in microgravity when experiencing shear (two forces sliding past each other). In microgravity, many processes that affect the behavior of fluids on Earth—such as convection, sedimentation, and buoyancy—are absent, allowing researchers to study fluids in ways not possible on the ground. Protein aggregation can affect the quality of pharmaceuticals, and results from this project could help improve drug development.
An investigation from pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) leveraged the ISS National Lab to improve the crystallization of biologic medicines, which are protein-based therapeutics derived from living cells. The sustained microgravity environment on the space station provides ideal conditions for growing high-quality protein crystals, which could allow BMS to improve the formulation and stability of therapeutics so they can be more easily injected under the skin.
Zero G Oven
After nearly four years on the space station, the Zero G Kitchen Oven developed by Nanoracks returned to Earth. It was part of a technology demonstration mission to explore new methods of food production in space. The project, which launched in 2019, examined how to heat and then cool the space oven in a manner that is safe for crew members.
Improved Solar Devices
Researchers from Stanford University are aiming to improve how we power the globe by developing more energy-efficient photovoltaic devices. To do so, they annealed copper indium sulfide (CuInS2) semiconductor crystals in space to create more uniform crystals that have an even electrical conductivity. Results from this investigation could yield higher-quality crystals, which would enable the development of more efficient photovoltaic devices.
Genes in Space™ 10
The latest Genes in Space™ student investigation, proposed by Pristine Onuoha, a student from East Chapel Hill High School, tested a method to measure telomere lengthening in space. Telomeres are sections of DNA that protect chromosomes from damage. Results from research on telomere lengthening could aid in the development of future therapeutics to combat the aging process in people on Earth or those living in space.