Space-Environment Utilizing Science

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 (URL to independent Japanese site) 


Purpose of Research

 The utilization of space environment (microgravity, cosmic ray exposure, high vacuum, etc.) via satellites, space shuttles, international space stations, planetary explorers, etc., has made it possible to conduct experiments that could not be performed on the ground. This research center aims to pursue the development of cutting-edge space science technology in the material and life sciences, based on preparatory research, towards the realization of specific objectives that include:


1. In order to verify the hypothesis that organic matter carried by cosmic dust contributed to the birth of life on the earth, we collected cosmic dust on the International Space Station (ISS) “Kibo” and carried out exposure experiments on the organic matter. Our aim is to analyze the samples and to publish the results. In addition, we will discuss the next generation of astrobiology space experiments that use the same exposures.


2. To prepare for future extraterrestrial exploration, we will study and develop methods for analyzing microbes and organic matter. In this regard, we will develop a method for analyzing trace amounts of organic substances using extreme-environment samples such as from the Antarctic and desert regions.


3. With respect to the instability of the surface tension flow, we will investigate the conditions of the oscillatory flow transition of the liquid bridge Marangoni convection and the characteristics of the accompanying convection field. We will also perform space experiments at the ISS “Kibo” experiment building to acquire data in an environment free from buoyancy and gravity deformation of the liquid bridge.

4. In order to develop a material recycling technology in a closed space assuming a manned space system, we will perform analysis using the mass balance model in a closed space, and then design a circulation system for water, carbon, and phosphorous using a separation membrane. We will develop a highly efficient gas dissolution technology for use as a reaction field of dissolved gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide, as an advanced use of water.



Research content / methods

 At present, the first through third years sets of samples from Japan’s first astrobiology space experiment “Tampopo (Dandelion)” in the exposed part of the ISS have already been returned to Earth. The analysis of first year’s exposure samples are near completion, and detailed analysis using FT-IR and XANES will be performed as part of the analysis. We will continue to analyze the second and the third year’s exposure sample. The results for all three samples will be published with the addition of a comprehensive discussion on the stability of organic matter in the space environment. Furthermore, with regards to post-Tampopo space experiments, we will continue discussions at the NINS Astrobiology Center · Satellite (YNU) and start to consider experiments using the ISS, as well as experiments using small satellites and a lunar base (using underground caves). We will perform the necessary ground experiments for that purpose using various accelerator facilities (HIMAC, NewSUBARU, UV-SOR, etc.).

We will advance the discussion on the development of a Life Detection Microscope (LDM) for the detection of existing life on Mars, and introduced a prototype model of LDM to YNU. The identification of microorganisms, minerals, and organic matter in the simulated Mars regolith is being verified by ground experiments using it. Furthermore, since amino acid analysis is considered to be an important next step after positive LDM detection, we will study the analytical method using extreme-environment samples from Earth (Antarctic soil, Atacama Desert soil) and investigate the pattern of amino acids in the biosphere of extreme environments.

Although the Trojan group asteroid is a candidate for future solar system exploration, we will add a further examination on the in situ organic matter analysis method using a new mass spectrometer. In addition, we will deepen the discussion on the possibilities with respect to astrobiological exploration in the vertical hole and underground cavity exploration plans of the moon.

As a material science experiment utilizing the space environment, we will summarize the Marangoni convection experiments that have already been performed and discuss the next generation of material science experiments. We will also continue to develop material recycling technology in closed spaces.