Biological experiment facility in Columbus
Biolab is a facility designed to support biological experiments on micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants and small invertebrates. The major objective of performing life science experiments in space is to identify the role that weightlessness plays at all levels of an organism, from the effects on a single cell up to a complex organism including humans.
Accommodation and transport
The Biolab facility was launched inside the European Columbus laboratory. Prepared standard Experiment Containers and vials are transported separately within the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), which is carried into orbit inside the Space Shuttle cargo bay, or other available transport means such as the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), the Russian Progress vehicles or the Shuttle’s mid-deck lockers.
The biological samples, together with their ancillary items are transported from the ground to Biolab either within the Experiment Containers or in small vials. The latter case applies if the samples require storage prior to use, in the Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI).
On-orbit, the Experiment Containers are manually inserted into Biolab for processing, whereas the frozen sample will first be thawed-out in the Experiment Preparation Unit (EPU) installed inside the BioGlovebox. Once this manual loading is accomplished, the automatic processing of the experiment can be initiated by the crewmember. The experiments are undertaken in parallel on a 0g and a 1g centrifuge, the latter providing the flight reference experiment, whilst the ground reference experiment is performed at the Facility Responsible Centre (FRC).
During processing of the experiment, the facility handling mechanism transports the samples to the facility's diagnostic instrumentation, where, through teleoperations, the scientist on the ground can actively participate in the preliminary in-situ analyses. Typical experiment durations range from 1 day to 3 months.
The Facility Responsible Centre, for the Biolab facility, has the overall responsibility to operate it according to the needs of individual Experiment Container providers. The individual Experiment Container providers could monitor the processing of their experiments from own User Home Bases.
Biolab was launched on board Space Shuttle Atlantis accommodated within the Columbus laboratory (launched on 7 February 2008). Since then the facility is accessible to the scientific community.
Last update: 22 July 2010