NanoRacks-Terpene Extraction in Microgravity (NanoRacks-Terpene) - 11.23.16

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
NanoRacks-Terpene Extraction in Microgravity (NanoRacks-Terpene) is an investigation sponsored by a commercial organization with the hope of finding new chemical building blocks for their products through microgravity extraction of the terpenes from wood samples.
Science Results for Everyone
Space-aged whisky? Researchers aged distilled spirits in space and found that microgravity did not affect quantities of already-present terpenes and phenols. However, microgravity did affect extraction of compounds from wood chips by the alcohol resulting in lower concentrations of lignin breakdown products and higher concentrations of tannin breakdown products. Aroma and taste comparisons in the sensory laboratory revealed significant differences between space and control samples, including a marked difference in flavor. Microgravity appears to inhibit extraction of oak components, which has implications for the malt whisky and other food and drink industries. Further analysis is needed to decipher what creates the different flavors.

The following content was provided by Bill Lumsden, Dr., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Bill Lumsden, Dr., Ardbeg, Scotland, United Kingdom

Information Pending

NanoRacks LLC, Webster, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory (NL)

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2011 - September 2014

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • NanoRacks-Terpene Extraction in Microgravity (NanoRacks-Terpene) studies terpene extraction in microgravity.

  • Terpenes are major biosynthetic building blocks within nearly every living creature and have multiple applications-such as use in cleaning products, aromatherapy, and various topical preparations.

  • To date, terpenes have not been studied in the space environment, yet they are critical components of major consumer products.

NanoRacks-Terpene Extraction in Microgravity (NanoRacks-Terpene) is a commercial investigation studying the extraction of terpenes from wood samples. Dry wood samples are placed in one end of the MixStix. Upon activation by a crewmember, the wood sample interacts with 6 mL of a 50/50 water and ethanol solution. The MixStix are then stowed until returning to earth where the samples are analyzed.

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Space Applications
One of the key questions for space station utilization remains a) whether the unique environment of space can capture the interest of mainstream consumer companies; and b) whether by fostering greater understanding of complex molecules, researchers can shed light on the impact of gravity on basic materials.

Earth Applications
The company undertaking the research belongs to a multi-billion dollar consumer company which produces dozens of new products that contain terpenes and other compounds each year. These include beverages, perfumes and cosmetics. Synthetic variations of terpenes and terpenoids also greatly expand the variety of flavors used in food additives. Another application is that the ingredients of terpenes have been shown to serve as natural agricultural pesticides. Hence, the understanding of terpenes extracted without gravity may well produce new understandings of a wide range of new products and processes. This is expected to be the first of several phases of research, all sponsored by the company.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
The experiment is activated by flexing the liquid mixing containers. The experiment is then re-stowed until ready to return on 30S.
A crewmember removes the Velcro tabs to open the Module-9 lid. A MixStix is removed and the crewmember flexes it to break the internal reservoir and release the liquids (flex down the entire length of tube). The crewmember then shakes the MixStix to mix the liquids thoroughly. Repeat for all 24 MixStix. Crewmember notes the time of MixStix activation and replaces the tubes back in Module-9. The lid is replaced and secured with the Velcro tabs.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Scientists combined distilled spirit and charred oak wood for 971 days on the International Space Station (ISS) to compare the whiskey aging process between space and on earth. Analyses of returned samples revealed that the microgravity conditions on the ISS did not impact the quantities, originally present, of the various terpenes and phenols. These are the organic compounds responsible for the complex aromas and flavors in whisky spirits as well as for many other foods and wines. The most significant difference between the ISS and Earth samples was discovered when analysis of key maturation related congeners (wood extractives). When the two samples, ISS and Earth, were compared to each other, the lignin breakdown products - which are the major flavor active derivatives from oak wood - were present in higher concentrations in the control samples than in the space samples. This indicates that conditions of microgravity may have inhibited their extraction from oak. On the other hand, ellagic acid and gallic acid, which are tannin breakdown products, both appeared to be higher in the ISS samples. This result means that while the overall extraction of wood-derived compounds is negatively impacted by microgravity, the impact is not equal. From the overall chemistry standpoint, the researchers did not expect there would be large differences between the ISS and control samples. However, when aroma and taste tests were done in the sensory laboratory, the differences were remarkable and unexpected. Nearly all participants were able to distinguish between the ISS and control samples. It is shown that the pattern of extraction of components of oak wood into spirit aboard ISS is different, with a degree of inhibition in microgravity, compared to Earth. This observation has implications for not just the malt whisky industry, but those of the food and drinks industry in general. The difference in flavor between the ISS and control samples is so marked, that further analysis is needed to decipher the creation of the different flavors.

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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
NanoRacks Brings Ardbeg Distillery’s Research to Space Station

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NanoRacks-Terpene Extraction in Microgravity MixStix contain a dry wood sample and a 50/50 mixture of water and ethanol. Image courtesy of NanoRacks LLC.

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NanoRacks-Terpene Extraction in Microgravity MixStix are flown inside a Ziplock bag inside NanoRacks-Module-9. Image courtesy of NanoRacks LLC.

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