Kubik (Kubik) - 09.30.15

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ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Kubik is a small controlled-temperature incubator or cooler with removable inserts designed for self-contained, automatic microgravity experiments such as those using seeds, cells, and small animals.
Science Results for Everyone
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Facility Details


Facility Manager(s)
, European Space Agency (ESA), Netherlands

Facility Representative(s)
Information Pending

Comat Aerospace, Flourens, France

Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)

Sponsoring Organization
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ISS Expedition Duration 1
April 2008 - March 2011; September 2011 - May 2012; March 2015 - March 2016

Expeditions Assigned

Previous ISS Missions
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  • Onboard
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    Facility Description

    Facility Overview

    • KUBIK consists of a small controlled-temperature volume, which functions both as an incubator and cooler (6 °C to 38 °C temperature range).

    • Self-contained automatic experiments; including seeds, cells, and small animals, are performed using power provided by the facility.

    • A centrifuge insert permits simultaneous 1g control samples to run with microgravity samples.

    • There are no data or command communication possibilities between the experiments and Kubik.
    Kubik is a small controlled-temperature incubator or cooler used to study biological samples in a microgravity environment. It is equipped with removable inserts designed for self-contained, automatic experiments using seeds, cells, and small animals. Kubik is a cubic box container measuring 37 cm by 37 cm by 37 cm composed of (from top to bottom) a thermal chamber (26 cm by 26 cm by 12.8 cm), thermal block with Peltiers (heat pumps with a hot side and a cold side) including exchangers and fans, and electronic boxes used to control the incubator and inserts.

    There are no data or command communication possibilities between the experiments and Kubik; therefore, the experiment hardware design must include automatic operation. Alternatively, it is possible to use manually operated experiment hardware, which the crew removes from the incubator for operations.

    Kubik operates from 6 °C to 38 °C with a stability of 0.1 °C (except if the lid is open). Temperature accuracy, including spatial dispersion is as follows: ±2 °C between 6 °C and 15 °C, ±1 °C between 15 °C and 29 °C, ±0.5 °C between 29 °C and 38 °C.

    Settings (temperature, centrifuge acceleration) easily change via push buttons and LED displays. Internal and ambient temperatures, acceleration, events, and status download via the RS232 (data cable) and onboard laptop.

    Kubik has two standard envelope Experiment Container (EC) sizes with an electric connector for power, that can be installed in the Centrifuge Insert or the Passive Insert Other inserts are available, in particular the Kubik Interface Plate, that can accommodate user custom designs. The EC holds either manually-operated hardware (without electrical connections to Kubik) or automated hardware, which is electrically powered by Kubik. The EC interfaces with Kubik via an interface plate.

    ESA usually develops experiment-specific hardware, also known as the Experiment Unit (EU), according to the requirements of the experiment. Once the experiment requirements finalize, new hardware development typically takes 12 to18 months. For some experiments it may also be possible to use an existing hardware design.

    The insert design allows for an easy reconfiguration on orbit. Inserts include the following:
    • Centrifuge Insert (CI): The CI has a settable acceleration between 0.2g to 2g in 0.1g increments. It accommodates either 16 standard size containers in static positions or 8 standard size containers and 4 extended containers; the CI also accommodates 8 standard size or 8 extended containers. Three activation buses link the containers by a set of eight (one bus on the centrifuge; two separate buses on the static rack).

    • Experiment Containers Activation Bus and Harness: ): The Centrifuge Insert activation bus is a 17-wire parallel bus that links the 8 ECs in a same groups, and provide power (5 V, ±12 V) to the ECs. There are three electrical buses (two static; one on the centrifuge) Out of the 17 wires, 5 are dedicated to power the bus. The insert electronic box provides these voltages to the insert via an internal electrical link. The insert then distributes the power to the EC connectors, via a slip for the Centrifuge ones.

    • Passive Insert (PI): The PI provides a mechanical interface for standard and extended containers. The PI accommodates a total of 32 standard or 16 extended containers. The PI does not provide electrical power to ECs.

    • Kubik Interface Plate (KIP): The KIP consists of a plate that attaches to the mechanical and electrical connections in the interior of the Kubik incubator. Experiment-specific equipment then attaches to the KIP. The KIP permits experiments that require more volume or complexity than can be provided in the standard / extended experiment cassettes in Kubik. When the KIP is used in association with the Centrifuge eBox, it is able to provide power to the experiment (same voltage as Centrifuge Insert).

    • Rack Insert (RI): The RI is a passive structure that accommodates standard sample vials, permitting controlled temperature of reagents or samples.
    The Kubik on-orbit fleet consists of Kubik FM3 and FM6. The design allows for easy mounting and dismounting of the insert by the crewmembers. Reconfiguration on orbit is possible. Kubik operates as a standalone facility in Columbus or in the Kubik Interface Drawer (KID) in the European Drawer Rack (EDR) in Columbus. The investigator prepares and loads experiment samples into the experiment containers either in the laboratory and ships them to the launch site, or prepares them at the launch site, depending on the requirements of the experiment. Experiments can run in automatic or manual mode, depending on the scientific requirements and associated hardware. For automatic experiments, there is currently no capability to command the experiment from the Kubik facility; the operation of the experiment must be controlled directly from within the experiment cassette. Manual experiments are generally performed by the crew using simple experiment-specific tools. Experiment manipulations may occur in the experiment cabin or in a glove box, depending on the toxicity of the experiment samples. Generally, experiments launch in passive stowage without electrical power and at ambient temperatures. If a specific temperature range needs to be maintained, phase change gels are used. Once the experiment package arrives at the ISS, the crewmembers install the experiments in the Kubik incubators. Automatic experiments are inserted into Kubik and run according to an automated timeline until complete. The crewmembers remove the containers from Kubik following completion of the experiment operation and then transfer them to onboard stowage until returned to Earth. Typically, the minimum time between upload and download of experiment samples for current ISS operations is a minimum of 2 to 4 months; therefore, experiment samples must be able to withstand at least this period of stowage.

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    Facility Operations

    • Crewmembers are responsible for activation, loading and unloading of samples, deactivation, routine checks and maintenance of the Kubik, as needed.

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    Decadal Survey Recommendations

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    Results/More Information

    Information Pending

    Results Publications

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    Ground Based Results Publications

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    ISS Patents

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    Related Publications

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    Related Websites

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    image Cosmonaut Salizhan S. Sharipov pictured with the Kubik incubator on board the International Space Station. Image courtesy of ESA.
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    image Configuration of Kubik with empty centrifuge insert. Image courtesy of ESA.
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    image Image of KUBIK’s container. Image courtesy of ESA.
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    image Kubik with centrifuge configuration loaded with experiment containers. Image courtesy of ESA.
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