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The Space Product Development Program and NASA's Commercial Space Centers

NASA's Space Product Development Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has sponsored numerous Space Shuttle experiments and is enabling industry to do the first commercial experiments on the International Space Station.

Some of the Space Shuttle experiments have produced remarkable results, including research on tumor-destroying medicines delivered in microcapsules, experiments in antibiotic production, and investigations to improve the quality of agricultural products. Related investigations are being conducted during International Space Station Expedition Two. More are slated for future expeditions.

Guigné International - a business located in St. John's, Newfoundland -- is building a payload that will be flown aboard the Space Station. Called Space-DRUMSÔ, the experiment processes materials inside a refrigerator-sized facility that uses sound waves to hold the material in place.

"The object being heated doesn't touch the container's walls," said Jacques Guigné, the president of Guigné International. "Containers draw off the heat and change the material's structure. Inside the Space Station, the low-gravity lets us suspend the material so it doesn't touch the container walls."

Guigné is working with the Center for Commercial Applications of Combustion in Space (CCACS), a NASA Commercial Space Center at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. Guigné and the company's partner Commercial Space Center are interested in creating more durable glass ceramic materials for items such as electronics, insulation for jet engines, fiber optic lines, dental crowns, and furnaces.

There are 17 NASA Commercial Space Centers dedicated to helping industry fly experiments in space. They are located across the country and specialize in designated fields, such as agriculture, medicine, materials and combustion.

In the last 15 years, industry and academia have invested $529 million through funding, people and equipment to NASA's Commercial Space Centers. Since the program began in 1985, $170 million has been privately invested in spin-off companies created by the Commercial Space Centers.

To do research necessary to produce new products and improve existing products, PentaPure Inc., a subsidiary of WTC Industries Inc. in St. Paul, Minn., worked with BioServe Space Technologies, a NASA Commercial Space Center with facilities at the University of Colorado in Boulder and Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. (BioServe has a different experiment on Space Station Expedition Two that studies antibiotic production and is sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb.)

PentaPure has used water-purification technology they developed on board NASA's Space Shuttle to produce more than 50 types of water purification systems. The company sells these systems for household use, sports and camping, municipal water treatment systems, and worldwide disaster relief efforts. PentaPure is continuing to invest in research through BioServe. It estimates the annual global market for water purification exceeds $45 billion -- growing at a rate of 15 to 18 percent per year. The company's customers include the International Red Cross and the U.S. Department of Defense.

"We've been involved in space-based research with the BioServe Commercial Space Center for more than a decade. The investment has been well worth it, " said Jim Carbonari, chief executive officer for PentaPure.

Commercial activity through centers, such as BioServe, has resulted in development of numerous new technologies, a dozen licensing agreements and more than 25 patents.

One technology - a light source used to help grow plants in space - has been adapted for use in a variety of medical treatments. Last year, this technology was inducted in the Space Foundation's Technology Hall of Fame. Since 1988, the Hall of Fame has honored innovators who adapt beneficial, commercial products from technology initially developed for the space program.

"People at the Commercial Space Center in Wisconsin believed in our idea when no one else did," said Ronald Ignatius, president of Quantum Devices Inc. -- a company that makes light emitting diodes in Barneveld, Wis.

Quantum works with the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a NASA Commercial Space Center specializing in agricultural research. This Commercial Space Center is flying a plant growth facility during Space Station Expedition Two.

Quantum Devices made light emitting diodes for plant growth facilities flown on numerous Space Shuttle missions and developed similar light sources for plant growth facilities to be flown on the Space Station. The company has been collaborating with NASA and several medical institutions to study the benefits of using this light source in combination with light-sensitive drug therapies to treat brain and skin cancer and heal wounds.

Web Sites for NASA Commercial Space Centers

Currently, NASA sponsors 17 Commercial Space Centers. The following 11 Commercial Space Centers are managed by NASA's Space Product Development Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center. These Commercial Space Centers must meet stringent commercial research requirements and undergo periodic, independent reviews:

The following six NASA Commercial Space Centers are not directly managed by the Space Product Development Program but assist businesses with commercial research: