From life sciences and biotechnology to physical sciences and Earth observation, the breadth of topics discussed at this conference was inspiring. The ISS represents a truly remarkable orbiting platform for performing unique scientific research, promoting education opportunities, and developing applications and products that benefit life here on Earth.
Additionally, with the recent focus on commercialization of space, entrepreneurs and innovators now have greater access than ever before to utilize the unique capabilities the ISS has to offer. In 2005, the U.S. portion of the ISS was designated a national laboratory, which included a specific directive to expand its utilization amongst both government and private entities alike. To help accomplish this objective, in 2011, NASA selected the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to manage and maximize use of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory.
“By carefully selecting research and funding projects, by connecting investors looking for opportunity to scientists with great ideas, and by making access to the station faster and easier, CASIS will drive scientific inquiry toward developing groundbreaking new technologies and products that will tangibly affect our lives.” (www.iss-casis.org)
Example case studies of entrepreneurship on the ISS presented at the conference included, among others: D-Orbit, a company focused on reducing the proliferation of space debris; Benevolent Technologies, a healthcare company developing custom fit prosthetics using remold-able material; Kentucky Space, a non-profit consortium supporting medical and other research projects in microgravity; and Zero Gravity Solutions, a company that has developed a micronutrient delivery system allowing plants to absorb specific minerals and nutrients.
Also presented at the conference were various sensor systems and instrumentation capabilities utilizing the ISS as a platform for Earth observation. For example, representatives from NanoRacks, PlanetLabs, Urthecast and Teledyne Brown Engineering participating in a panel discussion on why their companies selected the ISS and what their vision is for the future of remote sensing from the ISS. Other conference sessions on Earth observation included:
- a smartphone app from the Environmental Protection Agency for monitoring water quality;
- a web-enabled image processing system developed by HySpeed Computing;
- sensor characteristics, data availability and image applications using ISERV Pathfinder, ISS-IMAP, ISS Agricultural Camera and RapidScat; and
- participation of ISS in image collection for disaster response.
As another focus, beyond today’s current ISS capabilities, and even beyond the limits of Earth itself, the conference also included a plenary session devoted to how the ISS is being used for technology and human health research as a pathway to Mars exploration. And another plenary session, which included representatives from Orbital Sciences Corporation, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Boeing, and Blue Origin, provided an overview of “getting there and back” – highlighting the latest developments in commercial vehicles for human spaceflight.
There is truly an incredible amount of science being conducted more than 300 km above our heads. The above are but a few of the many exceptional presentations, which also included talks by Nobel Laureate Samuel Ting and NASA Astronauts Greg Johnson, Nicole Stott and John Grunsfeld.
To attend or participate in next year’s conference, which will take place 7-9 July 2015 in Boston, MA, just visit www.astronautical.org. The call for papers will be released in September 2014. See you there!