AIS relies on VHF radio signals with a horizontal range of just 40 nm, making it useful within coastal zones and on a ship-to-ship basis, but not in the open ocean. However, because AIS signals travel further vertically, the space station is an ideal location for space-based AIS signal reception.
In the area of materials science, ESA is supporting ISS research into processing, structure and properties of new high-performance metal alloys for industrial use in turbine blades and catalytic powders. The Intermetallic Materials Processing in Relation to Earth and Space Solidification Project (Impress), a joint effort between ESA and the European Commission, is one that utilizes the Materials Science Lab on the ISS to research the solidification process of liquid metals when they form solid structures, research that was previously possible only on the ground or through brief parabolic flights.
“ISS opens up a lot of possibilities that on a short parabolic flight or through other means there is no chance to have the exact length of time you need for solidification experiments in metals,” says Robert Guntlin, managing director of Access, an independent research center associated with the Technical University of Aachen in Germany.
Knowledge derived from ground research and space experiments have led to a macro-scale prototype of a light-weight turbine blade that could further the EU's goal of decreasing aircraft fuel consumption and emissions. The turbine blade developed on the station is 50% lighter than a conventional nickel-based super alloy blade.
Other real-world spinoffs use technology from the space station's Canadarm2 and Dextre, Canadian robots that service and maintain the ISS, to produce the world's first robot capable of performing brain surgery. Dubbed the neuroArm-TM, the technology is now licensed to a private, publicly traded medical device manufacturer planning to develop a two-armed version that will enable neurosurgeons to see three-dimensional images and apply pressure to tissue.
In the area of space medicine, Russia has made great strides in turning research conducted on the ISS into practical applications at home.
Georgy Karabadzhak of Russia's TsNIIMash says experiments on the station have led to a number of patents in the areas of human health and biotechnology. Roscosmos has also developed basic manufacturing processes in microgravity conditions, including investment projects in new bacterial and fungi strains to produce a Hepatitis-B vaccine and plant-growth stimulators that could be used to recultivate oil-polluted lands.
He says results from the Russian Biorisk experiment, which exposed plant seeds on the ISS for 23 months with no negative impact, confirm the feasibility of long-term storage of plant seeds in space. Russian research has also produced two patents for probiotic production in space.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is increasingly focused on bio- and space-medicine sciences, including improved healthcare technologies for astronauts, says Makoto Asashima, a fellow at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan's largest research organization. Using its Kibo experiment module on the ISS, JAXA is pursuing long-term targets over the next five years that include chemical science to support green combustion systems. In the near term, the agency is pursuing research in container-free processing and soft materials that could have applications on Earth.