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Posted on April 5th, 2022

Out of this World – Innovations on the ISS

Existing is a complicated business in the best of situations, let alone trying to exist and work inside a bubble. When resources are limited, all factors must be considered and improvements made at every turn. In space, the smallest details have major consequences, and nothing can be taken for granted. 

This infographic illustrates how the Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (PONDS) grows plants without the help of electricity. (Credit: NASA)

Recently published studies from the International Space Station (ISS) tackle these tough questions. Communicating with Earth grows more challenging as we travel further into space. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) attached a communication terminal called the Small Optical Communication System (SOLISS) to the ISS to test its transmission capability. Their tests verified that SOLISS’ optical pointing mechanism provides 100Mbps downlink speed from the ISS and can also work on Geostationary Orbit satellites to communicate with ground stations. The 2.2lb (1 kg) unit will enable real-time downlinks and will save space on the ISS and resupply missions by eliminating physical data storage. SOLISS will be a compact, cheap solution to our current space communication challenges.

JAXA is also studying crystals of Silicon-Germanium (SiGe) as a semiconductor. They are checking crystal growth using a method called Travelling Liquidous Zone in the Japanese Experiment Module-Gradient Heating Furnace (JEM-GHF). The method creates more efficient semiconductors, superior to silicon, by controlling the crystal growth rate. This new material will consume less energy, making electronic devices more efficient.

NASA’s first major study growing lettuce on the ISS was big news at the time, but the technology continues to improve and adapt. The Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (PONDS) grows plants in space without electricity. The initial experiment using plant pillows was successful, but the system needs to accommodate larger crops, including vegetables and fruits. Veggie PONDS improves on the design by creating more room for root growth and increasing oxygen exchange. Evenly distributing water is a challenge in microgravity, and this new unit tests whether they can improve water and nutrient delivery to produce more uniform plant growth. There’s always more news and science to discover on the International Space Station.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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