A flight qualified miniature controller for experiment unit has been initially developed for the installation and usage within Nanoracks Platform-3 facility (see picture to the right, credit Nanoracks). Named KABs, they have been flown twice with Nanoracks Platform-3 and then adapted and moved to STaARS-1 incubator (property of Space Technology and Advanced Research Systems Inc.). The STaARS-1 incubator is actually active on International Space Station (US-Lab) and has been used for the execution of various biological experiments. All experiments executed within STaARS-1 up to now have been controlled by Kayser Italia KABs.
KABs in combination with STaARS-1 incubator capabilities allow the autonomous execution of experiments in orbit with minimal crew intervention (installation and removal of units only). Each KAB controller provides adequate software for programming of timelines that execute the electrical functions of the experiment and represent the electrical/commanding I/F towards the incubator. KAB controllers can be reprogrammed in-orbit through an USB interface.
One KAB is capable of commanding up to three connected experiments. KAB software runs on its internal microcontroller responsible for:
- Data acquisition from internal sensors and monitors (housekeeping)
- Execution of scheduled actions (timeline)
- Data storage of HK data on internal SD mass memory
- Communication with external devices using the USB data link
A total of eight flight qualified KAB Controllers are permanently available on ISS to support STaARS-1 incubator. The fleet of KABs allows the simultaneous execution of 24 experiments.
For reference only, the KABs controllers can control the following available experiment units (bioreactors) for different applications:
Designed to support the research on bone cell. It is suitable for histological studies
A device capable of performing automatic cell culture of bacteria on a model membrane in microgravity. It is suitable for biofilm related studies
A device capable of performing automatic cell culture of bacteria in microgravity. It is equipped with reservoirs for chemicals (culture medium with activator, fixatives), a culture chamber allowing cell growth and, a reference culture chamber as internal experiment control.
A device capable of performing automatic cell culture of non–adherent cells (i.e. cells that grow in suspension) in microgravity. It is equipped with reservoirs for chemicals (culture medium, fixatives) and a culture chamber allowing cell growth in suspension.
A device capable of performing automatic 2D cell culturing in microgravity
Each device features two biomining reactors (BMR) capable of culturing microbial biofilms on the surface of a flat basalt slide. The two BMRs are totally independent and are equipped with reservoirs for chemicals and a culture chamber.