Biological Experiment Laboratory (BioLab) - 01.30.19

Summary | Overview | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

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The Biological Experiment Laboratory in Columbus (BioLab) is a multiuser research facility located in the European Columbus laboratory. The facility is used to perform space biology experiments on microorganisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants, and small invertebrates. BioLab allows scientists to gain a better understanding of the effects of microgravity and space radiation on biological organisms.
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Information Pending

The following content was provided by Pierfilippo Manieri, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Facility Details

OpNom: Biolab

Facility Manager(s)
Pierfilippo Manieri, European Space Research and Technology Research Centre, Noordwijk, Netherlands

Facility Representative(s)
Serge Sampoux, EADS Astrium, Toulouse, France

EADS Astrium, Toulouse, France
European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), Noordwijk, Netherlands

Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)

Sponsoring Organization
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
October 2007 - March 2011; September 2011 - March 2016; March 2016 - October 2019

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

Information Pending

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Facility Description

Facility Overview

  • BioLab provides an on-orbit biology laboratory that enables scientists to study the effects of microgravity and space radiation on unicellular and multicellular organisms, including bacteria, insects, protists (simple eukaryotic organisms), seeds, and cells.

  • The BioLab facility includes an incubator, microscope, spectrophotometer (instrument used to measure the spectrum of light absorbed by a sample), and two centrifuges to provide artificial gravity. BioLab allows researchers to illuminate and observe individual experiment containers (ECs), and BioLab's life support system can regulate the content of the atmosphere (including humidity).

  • BioLab is integrated into a single International Standard Payload Rack (ISPR) within the European Columbus laboratory, which was launched on space shuttle mission STS-122.

  • Results from BioLab experiments could affect biomedical research in areas such as immunology, pharmacology, bone demineralization, cellular signal transduction (the processing of electrochemical stimuli in cells), cellular repair, and biotechnology.
The BioLab facility, which has been integrated into a single International Standard Payload Rack (ISPR) in the European Columbus laboratory, is divided into two sections: the automated section, or core unit, and the manual section, designed for crew interaction with the experiments. The core unit, which can operate autonomously or telerobotically (via commands sent from the ground), consists of a large incubator, two centrifuges, a microscope, a spectrophotometer (an instrument used to measure the spectrum of light absorbed by a sample), a sample-handling mechanism, and automatic temperature-controlled stowage (ATCS) to keep small amounts of sample. The manual section consists of the experiment preparation unit (EPU), the BioGloveBox (BGB), and additional temperature control units (TCUs) for storing experiment containers (ECs) and preserving samples.

The EC is designed to enclose a variety of biological samples and provide an interface with the other BioLab subsystems, such as power, data, and life support. The standard EC measures 6 x 6 x 10 cm, whereas the Advanced EC, which is capable of video, measures 10.8 x 15 x 13.7 cm. The incubator is capable of maintaining ECs at a temperature between 18 and 40 °C with an accuracy of ±0.5 °C. The two centrifuges located inside the incubator are capable of providing artificial gravity in the range of 0.001 to 2 G (G is the gravitational acceleration at the Earth's surface). An array of light emitting diodes (LEDs) is used to provide white light illumination as well as infrared observation.

BioLab's handling mechanism (HM) is a robotic arm that provides an interface between the ECs and BioLab's analytical instruments, the microscope and spectrophotometer. BioLab's microscope, which can be controlled by investigators on the ground, has a resolution that ranges from 0.6 to 1.8 micrometers (µm) with a 0.25 µm and 1.0 µm diameter field of view, respectively. The spectrophotometer, which uses tungsten and deuterium lamps, can analyze light passed through the sample in the spectral range of 220 to 900 nm (ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared) with a resolution of 10 nm. Finally, the HM also allows automated transfer of samples from the incubator to the ATCS, which can maintain temperatures between -20 and 10 °C with an accuracy of ±1 °C.

In the manual section, the BGB, which has a working volume of 32 L, allows manipulation of the experiment hardware in a closed, controlled environment. It also provides disinfection of the working volume using an ozone gas (O3) unit. The Thermo-Electrical Unit (TEU) maintains air temperature inside the BGB between 21 and 38 °C with an accuracy of ±2 °C. Lastly, the two TCUs allow storage of ECs and ATCS inserts before and after use at an adjustable temperature between -20 and 10 °C with an accuracy of ±1 °C. Biological samples are transported from the ground in experiment containers (ECs) or in small vials. The latter are used if the samples require cold storage prior to use. Once on-orbit, the ECs are manually inserted into BioLab, or in the case of cold storage, the samples are thawed in the experiment preparation unit (EPU). After the initial loading and processing, the crewmember initiates the automatic portion of the experiment. During this phase, parallel experiments are run in microgravity conditions, 1-G artificial gravity (using the centrifuge), or other levels of artificial gravity in addition to 1-G reference experiments performed on the ground.

At certain intervals, the samples are transported via the BioLab handling mechanism (HM) to the facility's analytical instruments, where scientists on the ground can perform in-situ analysis via teleoperations (commands to operate the instruments are sent remotely from the ground). The samples can also be transported using the HM to the facility automatic temperature-controlled stowage (ATCS), where they can be stored at a temperature between -20 and 10 °C.

If the experiments require any additional manipulation or processing, the crewmember can perform such tasks inside the BioGloveBox (BGB). Investigations are expected to range in duration from 1 day to 3 months. Between investigations, if needed, the experiment preparation unit located within the BGB can be sterilized by activation of the ozone gas (O3) unit.

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Facility Operations

  • BioLab is designed for automated space experiments and requires minimal crew time.
  • Power and data lines to the experiment containers and video cameras allow ground-based investigators to follow and control the experiment from Earth.
  • A handling mechanism allows automatic transfer of specimens to a microscope or a spectrophotometer for automatic on-orbit analyses.
  • A push-pull and rotating tool can be used for activating or terminating an experiment within the facility by International Space Station crew members.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Results Publications

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

    Serafini L, Viganò W, Donati A, Porciani M, Zolesi V, Schulze-Varnholt D, Manieri P, El-Din Sallam A, Schmaeh M, Horn ER.  The development of the hardware for studying biological clock systems under microgravity conditions, using scorpions as animal models. Acta Astronautica. 2007; 60: 420-425.

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Related Websites

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image Artist's impression of the BioLab facility, divided into the automated section, or core unit (left), and the manual section (right). Credit: ESA
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image NASA Image: ISS016E030923 - BioLab facility in the Columbus module. Image taken during Expedition 16.
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image NASA Image: ISS018E012153 - BioLab facility in the Columbus module. Image taken during Expedition 18.
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image NASA Image: S122-E-008899: European Space Agency astronaut Hans Schlegel, STS-122 mission specialist, continues work to ready the agency's new Columbus laboratory for duty aboard the International Space Station.
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image NASA Image: ISS020-E-044457 - European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Expedition 20 flight engineer and Expedition 21 commander, installs experiment containers in the Biolab incubator in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station.
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image NASA Image: ISS016E030925 - View of the Biological Experiment Laboratory (BioLab) rack in the European Laboratory / Columbus module. Photo was taken during Expedition 16.
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