Synthetic Muscle: Resistance to Radiation; Ras Labs-CASIS-ISS Project for Synthetic Muscle: Resistance to Radiation (Synthetic Muscle) - 11.22.16

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Robots will be of increasing importance on future space missions, where they could perform tasks too difficult or too dangerous for humans. Robots built with synthetic muscle would have more human-like capabilities, but the material would have to withstand the rigors of space as well as any metal. The Synthetic Muscle: Resistance to Radiation; Ras Labs-CASIS-ISS Project for Synthetic Muscle: Resistance to Radiation (Synthetic Muscle) investigation tests the radiation resistance of an electroactive polymer called Synthetic Muscle™, developed by Ras Labs, which can contract like real muscle and can also expand.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Lenore Rasmussen, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: Synthetic Muscle

Principal Investigator(s)
Lenore Rasmussen, Ph.D., Ras Labs, LLC, Synthetic Muscle for Prosthetics and Robotics, Hingham, MA, United States

Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
Information Pending

Developer(s)
Ras Labs, LLC, Synthetic Muscle for Prosthetics and Robotics, Quincy, MA

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory (NL)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Space Exploration, Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2015 - March 2016; March 2016 - September 2016

Expeditions Assigned
43/44,45/46,47/48

Previous Missions
None.

^ back to top

Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Radiation testing of synthetic muscle is needed to determine how radiation-hardened these materials are, for dual use on earth and in space, in extremely challenging environments.
  • Preliminary radiation testing of synthetic muscle, with additives and coatings, was done at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL)/Princeton University, with very good results.
  • Synthetic Muscle: Resistance to Radiation; Ras Labs-CASIS-ISS Project for Synthetic Muscle: Resistance to Radiation (Synthetic Muscle) determines radiation resistance of synthetic muscle at International Space Station (ISS) orbital flight, with a variety of additives and coatings plus combinations of selected additives and coatings. This is to determine how synthetic muscle holds up to the radiation encountered in this unique national laboratory.
  • The Synthetic Muscle investigation provides projections for radiation resistance of synthetic muscle in high radiation level environments encountered on earth and in space.
  • The impact of this research will be immense. Synthetic muscle lends itself to life-like motion and will transform robotics and prosthetics. If this experiment shows the ability of synthetic muscle to withstand the challenging environment of the ISS, then robotics made of synthetic muscle will be able to help humans on earth to mitigate/correct dire situations, to assist humans in space, and to survive deep space travel.

Description

Ras Labs has developed Synthetic Muscle™, robust electroactive polymers (EAPs) that contract and expand. These materials withstand extreme temperatures (-271°C to over 135°C) and there are indications that these materials are also radiation resistant. Radiation resistance of Synthetic Muscle™ was determined at the United States Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL)/Princeton University and is further explored in the investigation, Synthetic Muscle: Resistance to Radiation; Ras Labs-CASIS-ISS Project for Synthetic Muscle: Resistance to Radiation (Synthetic Muscle) on the International Space Station (ISS). Robots made of synthetic muscle could be used in extremely challenging environments, performing essential human-like tasks and able to mitigate/correct dire situations, on earth and in space.
 
Following 305.931 kRad radiation exposure to Cesium-137 at PPPL, Generation 3 and Generation 4 synthetic muscle samples, with a variety of additives and coatings, were tested for pH, peroxide formation (indicative of free radical formation), material integrity, and electroactivity. All samples had 0 ppm peroxide and had pH values, material integrity (Shore hardness), and electroactivity similar to the unradiated control samples. New Generation 3 and Generation 4 synthetic muscle samples were prepared for experimentation on the ISS, with free radical inhibitor additives, coatings, and additive/coating combinations. Titanium metal mounts are treated with oxygen plasma at PPPL to improve the bonding of synthetic muscle to the support mounts. The thirty-two 1 by 1 by 1/8 inch synthetic muscle samples, mounted on eight thin 1 by 4 by 1/8 inch titanium coupons, are protected in four lightweight 8½ by 2 by 7/8 inch aluminum cage structures. Each protective cage is wrapped in clear polyethylene (PE) film, sealed in a perfluoroalkoxy (PFA) bag, with small Velcro patches attached to PFA bag, for easy placement to the assigned ISS location via Velcro. All samples, coatings, PE film, PFA bags, and Velcro were outgassed using high vacuum.
 
The protective aluminum structures have a viewing area for the samples, which are photographed monthly for the duration of the experiment. Two thermoluminescent dosimeters (TLDs) are provided with the experiment to record radiation exposure. Once the synthetic muscle samples are back on earth, all samples are tested for pH, material integrity/characterization, and electroactivity. These are compared to control samples that remain on earth.
 
The impact of this research is immense. Synthetic muscle lends itself to life-like motion. Both the preliminary radiation testing at PPPL/Princeton and the exposure to solar and cosmic radiation on the ISS determine radiation resistance of synthetic muscle and provide projections for radiation resistance in high radiation environments. Robotics made of synthetic muscle will be able to help humans on earth, mitigating and correcting dire situations in extremely challenging environments. Robots made of these materials will be able to assist humans in space and be able to survive deep space travel. A follow up external platform experiment is being planned.

^ back to top

Applications

Space Applications
Synthetic muscle, often built from soft plastics or rubber-like material and activated using electrodes, lends itself to life-like movements. Robots using synthetic muscle would be better equipped to perform dextrous, graceful tasks normally reserved for humans. Preliminary ground testing of Ras Labs’ Synthetic Muscle demonstrated that the material is inherently resistant to radiation, even at the high radiation levels equivalent to a trip to Mars and back. This investigation tests the material’s radiation hardiness in space, providing insight that could lead to the material’s use in robots for deep space travel.

Earth Applications
Ras Labs’ Synthetic Muscle, which behaves like real muscle, promises to transform robotics and prosthetics. This investigation studies its resistance to radiation, already demonstrated with great results on Earth. Robots made of this synthetic muscle could be used in challenging environments on Earth, performing human tasks and responding to emergencies in situations too dangerous for humans to enter, such as inside nuclear power plants.

^ back to top

Operations

Operational Requirements and Protocols

The samples are photographed at monthly intervals for duration of the experiment.

Once the package arrives at ISS, the crew needs to remove the bubble wrap from each of the four units, and Velcro each unit at the assigned ISS pressurized location. The protective cage structures have a viewing area for the samples, which are photographed at specified intervals for duration of the experiment. The experiment needs to be repackaged for descent after 90 days on ISS.

^ back to top

Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

^ back to top

Results/More Information

Information Pending

^ back to top

Related Websites
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
RasLabs

^ back to top


Imagery

image
Luke Skywalker’s arm from Star Wars V, and how his arm would be repaired in the near future in our galaxy, using synthetic muscle rather than metallic pulleys. Image courtesy of Lenore Rasmussen.

+ View Larger Image


image
Front and back views of one of the (four) protective cages containing 8 Synthetic Muscle samples, visible through the observation window. Image courtesy of Ras Labs and NASA.

+ View Larger Image


image
Summer interns Surbhi Hablani, double mathematics and physics majors, Skidmore College, and Tyler Fuerst, double mechanical and aeronautical engineering majors, Clarkson University, testing samples for electroactivity using multiple electric input cycles. Image courtesy of Lenore Rasmussen.

+ View Larger Image


image
Investigators and interns testing Synthetic Muscle samples for radiation resistance at the US DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory at Princeton University. The material undergoes similar testing at the International Space Station National Laboratory. Front Row: Eric Sandberg, Ras Labs, Stephanie Liffland, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Whitney Blocher, Clarkson University, Lenore Rasmussen (holding samples), Ras Labs, Surbhi Hablani, Skidmore College. Back Row: Tyler Fuerst, Clarkson University, Bob Hitchner, PPPL, and Sergio Gallucci, Clarkson University. Image courtesy of Elle Starkman.

+ View Larger Image


image Lenore Rasmussen, Ph.D., principal investigator of the Synthetic Muscle investigation, checks the pressure during the oxygen plasma treatment of titanium metal support mounts at the U.S. Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Image courtesy of Elle Starkman, PPPL.
+ View Larger Image


image The third generation of the RasLabs Synthetic Muscle enhanced with carbon fibers, shown to be just more than 2 centimeters in length. Image courtesy of Ras Labs.
+ View Larger Image


image NASA Image: ISS044E064351 - Photographic documentation of individual Synthetic Muscle cages.
+ View Larger Image