Educator Features

Biology Habitats on the ISS
Habitats in the Space Station Fundamental Biology Research Facility (SSFBRF) enable studies on a variety of organisms across multiple science disciplines. They allow scientists to conduct experiments in habitats that are similar in design to those that have been used in labs for ground studies. Each habitat provides life support, environmental control, and monitoring systems and can be housed in one or more of the three major host systems: the Centrifuge, Life Sciences Glovebox, and Habitat Holding Rack. This hardware was designed to automate as much as possible, thus providing maximizing science return while requiring minimal crew time.

A drawing of the Advanced Animal Habitat-Centrifuge (AAH-C) used on the ISS
The Advanced Animal Habitat-Centrifuge

The Advanced Animal Habitat-Centrifuge (AAH-C) is a research environment for laboratory rats and mice that will be orbiting for up to 90 days. It is being developed by STAR Inc. with the support of their sub-contractor SHOT Inc. The AAH-C is internally modularized so that it can be reconfigured to facilitate a wide range of rodent experiments during all stages of the animals' life cycle (that is, during pregnancy, birth, nursing, and post-weaning, and as an adult).

Image to right: The AAH-C will control temperature, humidity and lighting, as well as food and water delivery and waste management during the various experiments
Credit: NASA

The Plant Research Unit

The Plant Research Unit (PRU) will provide the opportunity to perform a wide array of plant experiments on board the International Space Station (ISS). Long-duration studies of plant growth, including multiple generation seed-to-seed studies, will be possible with the PRU. Such prolonged studies, performed entirely under microgravity conditions, will provide opportunities to study the effects of gravity on fundamental plant reproductive biology and development. Several short-duration experiments on the PRU are possible as well and may be combined into one increment to take advantage of research opportunities on ISS.

A diagram of the Biomass Production System (BPS) used on the ISS
The Biomass Production System

Image to right: The plant specimens grown in the BPS during its Increment 4 mission were Wheat (Triticum aestivum cv Apogee) and Brassica rapa (Brassica rapa cd ASTROPLANT)
Credit: NASA

The Biomass Production System (BPS) is precursor hardware to future systems capable of supporting plant growth and botanical experimentation in microgravity. It was developed by Orbital Technologies Corporation in support of the SSBRP project goal of providing the science and biotechnology communities with an ISS facility for long-duration flight experiments. The BPS is a Shuttle double Middeck locker equivalent in size, and provides four plant growth chambers. Each chamber has independent control of temperature, humidity, nutrient and water delivery, lighting, and atmospheric composition control. Environmental settings can be controlled within the following values: 1) temperatures between 18ºC and 35º C, 2) relative humidity between 65% and 90%, and 3) light levels between 50 mol m-2s-1 and 300 mol m-2s-1. Ethylene is actively scrubbed, and CO2 is removed through its uptake by the growing plants.

The Insect Habitat

The Insect Habitat (IH) was designed to support a variety of insect species. However, during the initial flight increments, it will be dedicated to experiments using Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit flies.

The Insect Habitat will enable studies of the fruit fly to learn how microgravity affects development, nervous system function, movement and behavior, growth, reproduction, aging, gene expression, mutagenesis from radiation and circadian rhythms or sleep/wake cycles.

The internal view of the Avian Development Facility (ADF) used on the ISS
The Avian Development Facility

Image to right: The ADF houses an incubation chamber that contains two independently operating carousel platforms, which each carry egg holders
Credit: NASA

The Avian Development Facility (ADF) is a habitat designed to provide environmental conditions optimized to study avian development in the microgravity of spaceflight. The ADF supports experiments that use non-mammalian amniotic eggs, such as chicken and Japanese quail eggs. Anticipated experiments include physiological, cellular, biochemical, and molecular studies in avian embryogenesis and developmental biology. The ADF was developed by Space Hardware Optimization Technology, Inc (Greenville, IN).

The Cell Culture Unit

The Cell Culture Unit (CCU) is being developed for use on the International Space Station. This hardware will help to answer questions concerning the effects of spaceflight and microgravity on cells.

The CCU will accommodate many different cell specimens in up to 18 cell-specimen chambers. The chambers' environmental conditions (temperature, pH, and gas concentrations) will be maintained by medium recirculation and renewal, as well as gas and heat exchange.

A picture of the Incubator used on the ISS
The Incubator

Image to right: This multi-use piece of hardware will support investigations across disciplines including life sciences, human research and materials sciences
Credit: NASA

The Incubator is a temperature-controlled Habitat for conducting life science research with invertebrate animals, plants, insects, cell and microbial specimens. The Incubator interfaces with the three Space Station Biological Research Project (SSBRP) host systems: Habitat Holding Rack (HHR), the Life Sciences Glovebox and the 2.5-meter Centrifuge Rotor. Together, these integrated systems will enable investigators to conduct research in microgravity and at variable gravity levels. The Incubator does not interface with the Shuttle Middeck - it will be transported to and from the ISS, unpowered and without specimens in the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module of the Shuttle.

The Incubator is designed to support experiments that will examine the effects of microgravity and space radiation on reproduction, development, aging, behavior, graviperception and gravitropism. Additionally, the Incubator may be used to examine the relationship between temperature and fluid movements in microgravity and to support analytical procedures to monitor the status of crew health and microbial containment checks of the Space Station.

For more information about Habitats, please visit the Space Station Fundamental Biology Research Facility (SSFBRF) Web site.
+ View site

Adapted from the Space Station Biological Research Project (SSFBRF)