Shoe Box Sized GeneSat To Study Biology in Space

Text Size

Shoe Box Sized GeneSat To Study Biology in Space
11.30.06
› View Now
VALERIE: Hi, my name is Valerie. I work as a mechanical engineer for the GeneSat Project. My Grandfather, who also worked for NASA, inspired me to pursue a career in science. In pursuing my dreams, he always taught me that the difficult takes a long time, and the impossible just a little bit longer.

WILL DAMON: My Granddaughter Valerie is a remarkable young lady. She could have done anything she wanted to do, but she was slated to be a scientist from day one. When Valerie was making a model of the solar system, she asked me about what happens to people when they go into space. And I told her, if you pay attention and get yourself educated you can probably answer that question and tell me all about it.

NARRATOR: At NASA Ames Research Center, specialized small satellites are now a real option for conducting science in space. The project that will demonstrate the research capabilities of the small satellite is called GeneSat-One.

JOHN HINES: GeneSat will be a flight test demonstration. We want to show that the systems will work when put through the rigors of an actual space flight.

TONY RICCO: GeneSat is the first of a new generation of satellites, a generation that holds great promise for access to space research. Today satellites are fairly large, most are about the size of a car. By comparison, GeneSat is roughly the size of shoe box. Of the smaller satellites that weigh less than ten pounds, only GeneSat can support a low-power life sciences research payload. We'll get all the data we need from the experiments by radio telemetry. Astronauts won’t be needed to run the experiments and there will be no samples to retrieve from the satellite. GeneSat will be the first small satellite to demonstrate these capabilities. Because of its small size and its ability to do the job remotely, we have an effective and remarkably low cost approach to space-based biological research. We think scientists around the world can use this system to great advantage.

USEN UDOH: My name is Usen. I’m a systems architect for the GeneSat program. My parents were a major influence in encouraging me to pursue an engineering career that allowed me to utilize my creativity, critical thinking and ingenuity in order to turn dreams into reality.

NARRATOR: The GeneSat mission will fly into space along with several other satellites as a secondary payload. Once it is in low earth orbit it will be released from the launch vehicle. At this point, researchers on the ground will activate the command and control systems as well as the data processing functions on board the satellite. The mission will have two phases. First, the system will run the biology experiment independently for several days. The team will then turn the operation of the satellite over to university students for the remainder of the life of the spacecraft, which could be up to four years. GeneSat will carry a biology experiment in a cylinder about the size of a one-liter bottle. This micro-size laboratory will provide life support for the microorganisms which will be housed and grown inside. It will monitor and analyze the microorganisms for the various effects of spaceflight.

DENVER: Hi, my name’s Denver. I’m an electronics engineer on the GeneSat project. My inspiration to get into engineering came from my father growing up. I spent a lot of time out in the garage with him really learning how things work and developing confidence in my problem solving abilities.

TONY RICCO: NASA’s goal is to send humans on deep space missions to the Moon and to Mars. These missions may last up to three years, so it will be critical to make life less stressful for the astronauts who fly on these expeditions. Two of the most important differences between living in space and living here on Earth are the long-term biological effects of radiation and of reduced gravity. We can learn a lot about both of these effects by studying simple organisms like bacteria in a spaceflight environment. Such studies may help us to develop therapies to counter the effects of living in space on the human body. GeneSat will give us a platform to conduct a variety of these experiments.

DIANA: Hi, my name’s Diana. I’m an engineering student at Stanford working on the GeneSat project. When I was in high school I got fantastic validation from three teachers who really inspired me to take up science and engineering.

NARRATOR: NASA Ames has joined forces with several universities and organizations to bring the GeneSat mission to life. A critical component of the GeneSat test demonstration will be a launch of the satellite into low Earth orbit. This role will be facilitated by a partner who agreed to accommodate the satellite on a launch vehicle carrying other satellites. GeneSat is a satellite system comprised of many sub-systems that rely on the efforts of its many partners. Each of the team members has taken on the responsibility of developing a subsystem or mission support tool. The teams work together to seamlessly integrate all of the parts into one package.

CHRIS KITTS: Students are an essential element of the Genesat mission team. Students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo have developed a launch pod which protects the spacecraft and ejects it once it’s in orbit. Part of the spacecraft itself has been developed by graduate students at Stanford University. Their equipment collects data from the spacecraft, it broadcasts this data to the ground, and it also generates the power for the satellite to use once it is in orbit. Once it is in orbit, students from Santa Clara University will control the spacecraft from a mission operations center which is in the NASA Research Park adjacent to NASA Ames Research Center. These students have developed the software which transmits the commands to the spacecraft. The software formats and calibrates the biological data that’s returned to the ground, and the software also analyzes the health of the spacecraft throughout its mission. We have undergraduate and graduate students working with leading NASA scientists and engineers to contribute to an exciting and cutting edge space technology mission. This opportunity to work together on a complex and distributed engineering program is an invaluable element of a world-class engineering education.

MIKE: Hi, my name’s Mike. I’m a mechanical engineering student at Santa Clara University working on the GeneSat project. For me, astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who grew up in the same small town that I did, was a real role model, and helped me to believe that I could achieve and accomplish anything that I tried.

NARRATOR: While focused on their individual systems, the team members are united in their dedication to advancing the state of the art. JOHN HINES: Here at NASA Ames, we take great pride in our research and development capabilities. We also strive to create a collaborative environment in which partnerships are welcome. Many of our programs at NASA have been advanced by nurturing relationships with our partners. We welcome opportunities to talk with commercial, academic and government groups about collaboration. Cost effective and reliable, we think small satellites will become the space science platforms of the future!

VALERIE: What we have here is completely integrated system for doing biological experiments in space.

WILL: Now I see where it’s going.

VALERIE: You mean with the GeneSat mission?

WILL: Yeah, plus answering the question you asked a long time ago about what happens to a body in space.

VALERIE: Oh, you rememeber that!

WILL: Of course!

VALERIE: Well, as soon as we make any new discoveries you’ll be the first to know.

WILL: Thank you.

› View Now