Nanoparticles, algae and organs on chips to launch on SpaceX Dragon

[Global] Drug-carrying nanoparticles, an algae-powered bioreactor, a microgravity platform and a variety of “organs on a chip” will make the trip to the International Space Station Wednesday morning (May 1) on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

The crew of the International Space Station is busy unpacking the tons of cargo carried by Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft last week, and they’re preparing to snag a second haul. This one, on the Dragon, will bring more than 3,270 lbs. (1,691 kilograms) of science payloads among the other crew tools and supplies. When it leaves, the Dragon spacecraft will carry 2,269 lbs. (1,029 kg) of experiments back to Earth for analysis, NASA officials said during a news conference April 22.

The cargo launch, on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, is set for 3:59 a.m. EDT (0759 GMT) on Tuesday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. You can watch the launch live online here at, courtesy of NASA.

“For this launch, there’s a heavy emphasis on life science investigations that will be onboard the Dragon spacecraft,” Marc Giulianotti, a scientist with the space station’s U.S. national lab, said during the conference. “We have a unique mixture of partners on this mission, from a Fortune 500 biopharmaceutical company to innovative startups and academic institutions.”

Mechanical and chemical systems currently generate oxygen and water and remove carbon dioxide on the space station, but someday, organic life could play a part, too. One new experiment going to the station on Dragon, the Photobioreactor, will test the cultivation of microalgae to someday serve as both food and a source of oxygen.

For this experiment, about 650 milliliters of algae in liquid will breathe carbon dioxide provided by astronauts, who will also occasionally add nutrients. Eventually, the astronauts will extract some algae from the device to send back to Earth for analysis.

This test won’t see algae make it to the crew’s dinner plates, researchers said during the news conference. But a process used to dry and prepare algae on Earth, if adapted for space, could someday make algae a tasty treat for astronauts.


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