~ Micromotors drive miniaturised laboratory instruments ~
Is it possible that one day, you or I could step onto another planetary body? For decades, space travel has been reserved for the select few. Now, with private companies offering space travel opportunities to commercial passengers, accessible space travel could be closer than we think. But before we can visit space freely, we must understand how it affects our bodies and what we can do to mitigate it. Here, Dave Walsha, sales manager at DC motor supplier EMS, explores the miniaturised laboratories studying the effects of space, and the micromotors that power them.
Before the public can be permitted to travel outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, we must know how safe it is for them to do so. The effects of space travel on humans have been long researched, but there is still so much we don’t know. This applies especially with long-term periods spent in space.
Cosmic radiation and the lack of gravity are known to affect our bone structure and cardiovascular system and can lead to lasting problems with balance and eyesight. Radiation sickness and increased cancer risk are further threats to health. But to better understand the extent of these effects and how they can be remedied, further studies are required.
To study the biological effects of space on human tissue, it’s preferable to conduct experiments without placing individuals at risk. One of the ways we can do this is by studying organisms that are genetically similar. Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) are a type of nematode or roundworm with genetics up to 80 per cent similar to ours.
- elegans respond to space conditions in a similar way to us, making them an ideal specimen for space research. And with each nematode one millimetre long, it’s possible to send hundreds of them to space, compared to having a study group of just a handful of humans.
To allow for the remote study of the C. elegans, the nematodes are kept inside a miniaturised laboratory device. A rotating disk contains multiple chambers inside which the nematodes are kept. Small inlet and outlet openings are used to feed and water the nematodes, as well as keep their compartments clean. The nematodes can also be administered with pharmaceuticals, to observe how effective medicines are when in space.
As the disk rotates, the individual chambers are moved underneath a microscope for careful examination. Images and observations are collected by an on-board computer and later sent back to Earth for analysis. It’s possible to miniaturise and integrate other laboratory instruments within the device for more in-depth analysis beyond morphological features, such as chemical composition.
Without any humans to operate the device, all movement within the device is carried out by small DC electric motors. This includes the precise turning of the chamber disk to ensure that each compartment lines up perfectly with the analytical instruments, as well as the precision pumps used to feed the nematodes.
Careful choice of micromotor is essential. The motors must be lightweight and compact due to the extremely tight installation space. Reliability is another crucial factor — any faults with the drive system will be exceptionally difficult to correct in space, particularly if the device is being launched within a minisatellite. Even the failure of a single motor could be detrimental to the experiment.
Therefore, it’s essential to choose an experienced micromotor supplier that can provide motors that consistently and reliably perform to the highest standard. Opting for a supplier that can customise solutions to suit requirements is advantageous. This particularly applies when it comes to applications such as those in aerospace that have extremely high and specific demands.
By implementing the latest in micromotor technology, we’re able to conduct more experiments in space than ever before. As we seek to understand space and its effects, the pace of research and development has only accelerated in the last few years. And while commercial space travel isn’t quite ready for mass rollout yet, it might not be as far away into the future as once thought.