Invention in Space at #CES2021

Alice Bonasio
Jan 16 · 5 min read

Space creates unique problems and inspires unique innovation. That seems to be the general conclusion of the “Research and Technology Development in Space” panel.

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By Laura Kobylecky

Rachel Crane, an Innovation and Space Reporter for CNN, is interviewing Kat Coderre, Systems Engineer/Senior Staff at Lockheed Martin, and Jana Stoudemire Commercial Innovation Officer at Space Tango. Her conversation circles largely around the ways that space travel and the ISS have inspired innovations that can apply both in space and back on earth.

Kat Coderre is working on a project that could be very important for the future of space travel. She is working on Astrorad (1) “a vest that is designed to protect astronauts from the deep space radiation environment.” The project is an example of the kind of global collaboration that is sometimes necessary and now possible for space innovation. For Astrorad, Lockheed Martin Partnered with Stemrad, “a small Israeli business” and repurposed a product they invented to protect people from radiation on earth. With the help of “NASA, the Israeli Space Agency, and The German Aerospace Center” they are adapting it for use in space.

This project is an example of how space brings together “big players” and “a lot of smaller businesses” even those that might not normally work together. Coderre explains that “the ISS has really enabled this to happen.”

This week, on the ISS, they are doing their “first set of tests” on the Astrorad. It is “an ergonomics experiment to see if the vest is comfortable.” They need to know “if the crew can actually do what they need to do” in the microgravity of space. Coderre explains that “it’s super fun” to test on the ISS and have the chance to speak with the crew. The “real-time feedback” is both crucial and exciting.

Eventually, they would like to put the Astrorad through “an actual deep-space radiation environment test.” This is crucial because once they move farther from low earth orbit, the astronauts will face even higher levels of radiation. The upcoming Artemis program is supposed to include another moon landing and this is the sort of situation that calls for increased radiation protection. In future missions to deeper space, the vests could allow the astronauts to “stay longer in space” and “fly for many more missions” by protecting the astronauts from the potential risks of cancer caused by the “high radiation dosage.”

These vests could be a crucial part of making that possible. Coderre speaks highly of working on this project with the ISS. She explains that “from the start of actually being selected as a payload all the way through opps and then post opps” you have “a really great support team. This project was a bit more complicated because it involved “human research,” but the team involved with the ISS “helped us to walk us through that process.” They will be testing to assure that the vests are safe for astronauts and won’t cause any problems on the ISS. Coderre finds it exciting to be able to “able to talk live with the crew” and also “cool to see them on the space station working with your hardware.”

Jana Stoudemire also talks about research and development in space and the work being done by Spacetango (2). They flew their first payloads in 2017 and have been part of 18 missions since then. They are focused on “leading the commercialization efforts to build new markets in low earth orbit for the space economy.” Future grown may be more possible than ever because “the infrastructure that’s being put in space” will allow them to “leverage that commercial space economy.”

There are commercial crew missions, commercial resupply missions and eventually there will be private astronaut missions. These new segments will “expand the commercial potential that we have up there.” And what’s up there is valuable. Microgravity can “change the physical and biological properties of systems.” These changes can be useful from a research perspective. Their goal is to eventually manufacture biomedical and technology related products” that can do good for the people back on the ground.

One example is LambdaVision “the first protein-based artificial retina to restore meaningful vision for patients who are blind or have lost significant sight due to advanced retinal degenerative diseases” (3). The company is an early-stage startup. According to Stoudemire they use a “a layer by layer deposition process that benefits from the uniformity you get in microgravity.”

There are other properties unique to microgravity environment and, according to Stoudemire, Space Tango intends to “to leverage those properties for manufacturing.” She explains that research in microgravity makes you think differently. The questions you ask “after you’ve worked in microgravity” are ones “that you wouldn’t have thought of beforehand.”

One thing that makes these experiments possible is automation. The astronauts are very busy and Stoudemire explains that “we really can’t thank the astronauts that are up there enough” because “they do a lot of science. The automation of some tasks “helps to offload” the burden so the astronauts can focus on the tasks they absolutely must do themselves like “spacewalks, keeping the station running and exercising to keep themselves healthy.”

Space Tango has seen great value in “automated systems” that can be initially installed by the astronauts and then commanded from the ground. According to her these automated systems don’t really “require as much of their time as some of the more manual experiments that they have to do.” By expanding automation they can expand the capacity of what can be accomplished with the help of astronauts on the ISS.

One thing that makes these experiments possible is automation Click To Tweet

Stoudemire speaks highly of the future of space, explaining that “it’s really an interesting time.” According to her we “have American astronauts launch from American soil on American rockets” and because of this “visibility of space is back and it’s cool.” She believes this will encourage more people to start “to get behind the space program again.” She encourages people in this time to “dream big, reach for those stars, and keep going.”

Kat Coderre and Jana Stoudemire have brought optimism about innovation in space to CES. In this time when many people are more confined than ever before, they may dream of exciting innovations and global collaborations occurring far above their heads.

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Laura Kobylecky is a contributing writer to Tech Trends. She is particularly interested in new and emerging technology and culture. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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