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LighTimes: UV LEDs from SETi Used in Newly Installed Decontamination System for Scientific Experiments Aboard the International Space Station

28 Aug 2014

August 21, 2014…Onboard the International Space Station, crew members using the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), can now safely perform biological research. NASA has installed a UV LED-based decontamination system developed by Teledyne Brown in partnership with Marshal for MSG. UV-LEDs from Sensor Electronic Technology Inc. (SETi) of Columbia, South Carolina sanitize liquids, air, and surfaces inside MSG within minutes. SETi developed the UV LEDs in part through US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Compact Mid-Ultraviolet Technology (CMUVT) program. The decontamination process before and after experiments with the UV LEDs helps to ensure the crew safety from biological experiments inside MSG.

MSG is a highly-specialized containment system for conducting scientific experiments in zero or low gravity. Crew members aboard the International Space Station have used MSG to conduct experiments for the past ten years. With the recent installation the decontamination system, the facility can now host life science experiments.

“We are really excited to be able to provide this new system that will enable astronauts aboard the space station the ability to conduct important life science research,” said Lee Jordan, project manager of the MSG at Marshall. “For example, with this system, crews can conduct experiments related to non-human cell biology that we couldn’t do before in the MSG. The work we do aboard the space station is so vital because it helps us discover technologies that can lead to bettering our lives on Earth.”

A sanitation process cleans up spills inside the glovebox and uses high power UV LEDs with sufficiently short wavelength for ultraviolet germicidal irradiation to kill any microorganisms. The sanitation process also removes airborne contaminants such as biological and chemical impurities and offers optimal accommodations for life science and cell science research. It has an exchangeable glove system that was redesigned for biological studies.

The decontamination system is available to all biological payloads that operate in the MSG and require a sterile environment. Rodent research studies will be among the first experiments to employ the decontamination system. Rodent Research Hardware and Operations Validation (Rodent Research-1) is scheduled to launch aboard the fourth commercial resupply flight of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. The long-term rodent studies in space will examine the effects of microgravity on rodents that serve as model organisms.