Particle physics experiments

Soar in microgravity with a “spy” among many experiments

On October 21, 2022 at 09:25, the German Aerospace Center’s MAPHEUS 12 research rocket took off from the Esrange Space Center near Kiruna in northern Sweden. He reached an altitude of 260 kilometers before descending to Earth by parachute. On board for the first time were nerve cells. The goal is to understand how their electrical signals deviate in microgravity.

The research team also investigated how cell polarity behaves in microgravity in relation to cancer development. The flight also served as a test under space conditions for new types of solar cells as well as encryption technology that will protect sensitive data in life support systems and space vehicles in the future. It was also the first time a reusable ignition unit was used on the upper floor.

“With MAPHEUS 12, we transported an extremely diverse set of experiments into near-space microgravity for about six minutes and retrieved it safely,” said mission science project manager Thomas Voigtmann. from the DLR Institute for Materials Physics in Space. “We are happy to find the sensitive nerve cells, marine organisms and materials science experiments in good condition after a perfect flight back on Earth.”

After its 15-minute flight, the payload landed softly by parachute about 70 kilometers from the launch site in the tundra of northern Sweden. A recovery team then proceeded to the landing site and transported the suspended payload from the helicopter to the launch base, where the team immediately began securing the collected data.

Research Rocket and Ground Station Upgrades
The rocket, which is 11.5 meters long and weighs more than 1.6 tons, was the twelfth to be successfully launched from the Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA) of DLR’s Space Operations and Astronaut Training Center. as part of the MAPHEUS series of experiments. “This flight was the first time the two-stage rocket carried the new service module, which offers 10 times faster communication with the ground station and more accurate attitude information and features electronics, completely redesigned mechanics and software”, explains the MORABA project. director Alexander Kallenbach. “The new module now serves as the basis for further developments towards intelligent embedded systems planned in the MAPHEUS-D project.”

Additionally, MAPHEUS-12 provided the first opportunity to use a remanufactured ignition unit on the upper stage, having previously flown on MAPHEUS-9. On the ground, the mission also saw the first use of a new telemetry system that allows signals received from the rocket at various ground stations to be distributed directly to the respective control consoles for experiments and support systems. This new development is based on components of the Holistic Control Center (HCC), which will provide a modern, flexible and service-oriented infrastructure for all future space missions at the German Space Operations Center (GSOC).

“We are delighted that the software has now successfully completed its first flight,” said Felix Huber, DLR’s Space Operations and Astronaut Training Manager. “This success gives the HCC concept the boost it needs to soon be used in orbital missions as well.”

Neural networks are a first in microgravity
The neurons of MAPHEUS 12 also experienced their first flight. During the short flight, they were examined directly at the electrophysiological level. The neural network of the Multi-Electrode Array (MEA) experiment consists of cultured primary neurons spread over two chips. These find ideal living conditions in a vacuum-tight chamber at 37 degrees Celsius.

“During the flight, we were able to record the action potentials of individual neuronal cells as well as the activity of the entire network,” reports Christian Liemersdorf of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine. Action potentials are the signals transduced between neurons in the brain and the central nervous system. Microgravity conditions are thought to influence neural connections in the brain. “Presumably, this is one of the main reasons why astronauts often suffer from certain cognitive disorders during their stay in space,” adds Liemersdorf.

“We are now evaluating the collected data in detail to understand these possible correlations more precisely.” Due to the sensitivity of neurons, it has so far not been possible to perform experiments with them on the International Space Station ISS.

Relationships between cancer, cell polarity and microgravity
The marine organism Trichoplax adhaerens, which measures only 0.5 millimeters – the simplest multicellular organism in the world – can distinguish between up and down and thus perceive gravity. About 450 specimens of these tiny organisms, consisting of a single upper and lower cell epithelium, flew into space with MAPHEUS 12 as part of the GraviPlax experiment. The international research team is interested in how the organism genetically reacts to microgravity and how it can be used to learn more about the mechanisms involved in the development of cancer.

“Trichoplax adhaerens has all the important gene clusters that may be associated with loss of polarity and therefore cancer cell formation,” says Jens Hauslage of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine. This means that the results can also be transferred to higher bodies. Final sample evaluations will take place at the Hannover laboratory in the coming weeks. Now research partners from DLR, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover (TiHo) and Australia’s La Trobe University in Melbourne want to understand even more precisely the influence of gravity on polarity formation and its evolutionary influence.

A spy travels on the back
The test setup for experiment 007/Blofeld, which is testing the security of encrypted sensor data streams under space conditions with industry partner adesso SE, relied on the GraviPlax board. “For spacecraft and life support systems, the operation and monitoring of environmental and vital parameters play an increasingly important role. Here, not only a tight connection to the sensors, but also the validity of the data are particularly important” , explains software architect Christian Kahlo. For the experiment, a “spy” chip implemented exploited encrypted temperature data. This experiment aims to show that even the intercepted data cannot be used by the spy and that the data remains valid for the receiver.

Other experiences
The RAMSES experiment, carried out in collaboration with the University of Konstanz, studies the directed movement of bacteria in an analogous system, which could be useful in the future for the targeted introduction of pharmaceutical agents. In the SVALIN project, a research team from the Technical University of Munich is responsible for analyzing how environmental conditions in space influence new types of solar cells mounted on MAPHEUS 12. In collaboration with the Leibniz Institute for new materials, SOMEX/ARNIM- Experiment II studies the agglomeration of gold nanoparticles in microgravity with a view to future applications in microelectronics.

Related links

DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine

The physics of time and space

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Soar in microgravity with a “spy” among many experiments

Kiruna, Sweden (SPX) October 24, 2022

On October 21, 2022 at 09:25, the German Aerospace Center’s MAPHEUS 12 research rocket took off from the Esrange Space Center near Kiruna in northern Sweden. He reached an altitude of 260 kilometers before descending to Earth by parachute. On board for the first time were nerve cells. The goal is to understand how their electrical signals deviate in microgravity. The research team also investigated the behavior of cell polarity in microgravity in relation to the development of a…read more