For spacecraft engineering, Japan is preparing to launch a NASA communications testbed in its HTV-III robotic cargo carrier next month that will evaluate three different software-defined radios (SDR) in the space environment. Set for installation by the Canadian-built Special-Purpose Dexterous Manipulator on the exterior platform of Japan's Kibo laboratory, the Space Communications and Navigations (SCaN) experiment will spend the next five years or more testing ways to upgrade and reconfigure radio-communications systems by uploading new operating-environment and waveform software from the ground.
Operated from the Glenn Research Center's Telescience Support Center where Ferkul works with Pettit, the SCaN Testbed will use S- and Ka-band frequencies to communicate through low-, medium- and high-gain antennas with ground stations and NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. It will be available not just to government researchers, but to commercial users as well.
Commercial researchers will have a route to the station through the National Laboratory arrangement, but there have been problems setting up the non-governmental organization (NGO) that Congress wants to run it. As a result, commercial access to the station probably has been slowed (see p. 45).
The Florida-based NGO—the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (Casis)—has taken almost a year to prepare its first call for proposals on the commercial experiments it will help mount on the station. The inaugural work it selected is not really a new application of space microgravity. Based on a review of 135 experiments NASA has flown on the shuttle and ISS over the past 10 years, Casis science advisers chose to focus initially on drug research aimed at osteoporosis, muscle loss and the immune system.
That kind of work has been a staple of microgravity medical research in space for decades. Timothy Yeatman, the interim chief scientist at Casis as the NGO labors to launch its program, says the choice of ongoing research was deliberate.
“There is wonderful opportunity in taking the initial discoveries made by the NASA experiments and advancing the research towards real innovation and commercialization,” Yeatman says.
Space station managers at NASA say the problems at Casis have not slowed station research aimed at commercialization, which was already underway with NASA-funded research and with “pathfinder” projects managed by NASA that are being turned over to the NGO (see p. 44). Ultimately, the agency wants the National Lab to use half of the research “upmass” NASA is launching to the station on European, Japanese, Russian and eventually commercial cargo carriers.
“What we've put into the plan is that we want to provide another 2.5 to 3 metric tons from an upmass perspective for what we call National Lab research,” says Mike Suffredini, NASA's ISS program manager.
Part of the NGO's job is broadening interest in space research to new arenas. Casis officials say early outreach has focused on the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, because of the promise microgravity holds for speeding research that could lead to new vaccines and other medicines. James Royston, the Casis interim executive director, is a former president of Astrotech, which conducted highly publicized research on salmonella and MRSA vaccines on the space shuttle (AW&ST June 20, 2011, p. 130). He says he is spending a lot of time promoting continuation of that kind of research on the space station.