Scientist "airborne" and greenery on an industrial scale. How Nauka will change life on the ISS.
On July 29, the Nauka multi-purpose laboratory module (MLM) docked to the International Space Station (ISS), which will expand the Russian segment and open up new opportunities for performing experiments in orbit. A day later, cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov opened the hatches and moved to the module, and on August 2, they began unloading operations.
In an interview with TASS, the head of the Laboratory for the development and implementation of biomedical programs at the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IMBI) RAS Yuri Smirnov told about what experiments will be conducted in the new module and on its external surface, how the Russian scientific program on the ISS will change, as well as about the possible participation of scientists in conducting experiments in space.
For the purity of experiments
According to Smirnov, one of the main advantages of the "Nauka" module is the appearance of a specialized place for conducting experiments, which, in turn, will affect their quality.
"Now most of the research takes place in the Zvezda service module, the same place where service operations and physical training are performed. Naturally, there is always a risk that astronauts will interfere with each other when performing work. Now there is a module-laboratory, where all the scientific equipment will be located, astronauts will be able to go there and do research, without risking being under any external influence" – he said.
The inclusion of MLM in the ISS will increase the Russian crew to three people and increase the time required to complete the scientific program. As a result, this will lead to the implementation of more experiments on board, the expert is convinced.
Japanese quail and salad
Currently, the IBMP has 13 experiments in various stages of preparation for implementation on the ISS, nine of which will be performed in the "Nauka" module. The list of studies is constantly updated. As the expert explained, specialists in various fields of knowledge still have the opportunity to write an application, send it to TsNIIMash (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation), and after carrying out the necessary expertise, get into the long-term program of targeted work on the International Space Station.
According to the head of the Institute's laboratory, one of the most long-awaited studies in orbit will be the Quail experiment. It involves the delivery of Japanese quail eggs to the ISS.
The purpose of the experiment is to study the development of an embryo in zero gravity and artificial gravity on the ISS. The scientific equipment is an incubator, some of the eggs will simply be incubated in space flight, and some will be placed in a centrifuge inside the incubator.
Periodically, astronauts will perform chemical fixation of eggs in a glove box, and then send them to Earth for study by specialists. The first stage of the IBMP experiment is planned to start in 2022. The second stage involves keeping the quail population in orbit. "The time frame for it is still unknown, because it requires the development of scientific equipment" – Smirnov explained.
Experiments with rodents and other animals of the same level of development are not planned yet. At the same time, IMBP expects to start growing lettuce on the ISS on an "industrial scale". The "Vitacycle-T" experiment is the creation of a greenhouse that allows you to grow plants on an industrial scale" – said the head of the laboratory.
A space greenhouse that resembles a snail in profile will be delivered to the ISS. "With a certain frequency, the cosmonaut puts a strip of seeds in the greenhouse. Then he scrolls the reel, after some time lays the next strip. Every certain period of time, an astronaut can harvest a crop. In the first experiment, for example, Peking cabbage will be grown" – Smirnov explained.
Some of the plants will be sent to Earth for research. "Naturally, no one will prohibit astronauts from using the resulting crop grown during a space flight for food" – the expert stressed. In the future, astronauts will also be able to plant cereals, legumes, and dwarf tomatoes.
A trap in outer space
New IBMP experiments will take place not only inside the station, but also on its external surface. One of these studies is "Biorisk", in which experts expect to obtain new data on possible changes in bacteria and fungi, as well as in various biological test objects (plant seeds, insect larvae and eggs, fish eggs) during space flight.
Now, said Smirnov, IMBP together with the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation (part of the state Corporation Roscosmos) is considering the placement of equipment delivered to the ISS on the outer surface of the station.
In addition to studying the impact of the space environment on biological objects, experts expect to catch microorganisms in open space as part of dust particles on the ISS flight path. For this purpose, the "Trap" experiment was developed. "Its goal is to capture micrometeorites, cosmic dust. There may be detected organic and inorganic compounds, as well as microorganisms" – suggested Smirnov.
According to the head of the laboratory, work on the outer side of the station will be greatly simplified by the ERA manipulator, which arrived on the ISS together with Nauka. "In fact, using a manipulator, we can remove equipment from the outer surface of the station, transfer it to the airlock, and the crew, without going into outer space, can pick up samples from there and send them to Earth" – the expert said, recalling that preparing for a spacewalk usually takes a long time.
Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin, during a speech at the Summer Space School in early August, spoke about the idea of sending young scientists to the ISS so that they can independently conduct research. According to the head of the state corporation, this will be possible if the experiment on rapid preparation for space flight is successful.
In response to the question whether the IMBP creates a kind of scientific "airborne" for flights to the ISS, Smirnov said that this idea is being discussed. "This question was mentioned. This is a very interesting idea. We are considering the possibility of creating a group of specialists who can conduct research that can only be performed by a professional, in the conditions of space flight" – said the head of the laboratory.
The expert recalled that some cosmonauts worked or are working in the IMBP, among them — Oleg Kotov, Valery Polyakov, Sergey Ryazansky and others. According to Smirnov, many young active employees of the Institute dream of becoming cosmonauts. The head of the laboratory is convinced that the presence of specialized specialists in the cosmonaut squad (Roscosmos or the Academy of Sciences) would be very useful.
Accelerated training of narrow specialists for spaceflight will allow us to include experiments that can only be performed by a person with a specialized education. For example, some invasive techniques or biological experiments that require specialized skills. In principle, it can change the scientific program.
Not only "Science"
Some IBMP experiments cannot be performed in Nauka because they require a treadmill (DB-2) installed in the Zvezda service module. One of them — a "Virtual trainer" - will allow you to develop a kind of physical training consultant.
"Today, ground specialists analyze the results of physical training of astronauts, and in the future we plan to create a system that includes, among other things, software that will allow analyzing the results of the previous training of an astronaut and taking into account the peculiarities of his physiology, plan training for the next period" – the expert explained.
Such a system, the head of the laboratory noted, will be useful during flights to deep space, when operational communication between the crew and ground specialists will be difficult. Another study, the results of which will help in preparing for such expeditions, is "Motocard — 2". "Now the amount of axial load (attraction) to the treadmill when training is performed is about 60-80% of the cosmonaut's body weight. The experiment is to create a level of attraction that simulates the level of gravity in the conditions of the Moon and Mars, and to study the biomechanics of a person in an altered gravity" – said Smirnov. It is planned to start conducting the experiment in 2024, and before that, the IMBP will have to develop scientific equipment and work out the methodology on Earth.
According to Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin, the Nauka module is now 50% ready for life. For its full integration into the Russian segment of the ISS, about ten spacewalks will be required — the first of them are already scheduled for September 2 and 8. In general, the head of the state corporation specified earlier, MLM will increase the number of experiments performed in orbit by 2.5 times.