Gary C. Knapp/AP
A Minotaur rocket after launch.

NASA Nanosatellite to Test Anti-Fungal Drugs in Space

May 07, 2009 07:30 AM
by Denis Cummings
NASA’s PharmaSat nanosatellite will study the effectiveness of anti-fungal drugs in space, part of a mission costing just $3 million.

PharmaSat Scheduled for Thursday Launch

NASA is planning to launch its 10-pound PharmaSat nanosatellite on board the U.S. Air Force four-stage Minotaur rocket on May 7, having postponed the scheduled May 5 launch due to weather conditions.

PharmaSat will test how microbes react to medicine under the conditions in space. The nanosatellite contains brewer’s yeast, a harmless fungus that acts similarly to other germs that cause disease. Once the nanosatellite enters low Earth orbit, nutrients will be released to stimulate the growth of the yeast, followed by the release of three different concentrations of antibiotics.

Over the course of the 96-hour operation, scientists will document how much of the yeast survived. A similar experiment will also be conducted on the ground to compare results. “We suspect it will take more drug to cause the same amount of death to the yeast than what we’ll see on the ground,” mission manager Bruce Yost told Discovery News.

PharmaSat, which was built at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., is one of NASA’s small satellite missions, which are designed to perform experiments and test equipment quickly and cheaply.

Nanosatellites, the smallest of NASA’s satellites, weigh between 2.2 and 22 pounds, and are typically launched as secondary payload aboard a larger spacecraft. PharmaSat costs approximately $3 million in design, development and operation; its launch aboard the Air Force rocket is “essentially free,” according to Discovery.
“Secondary payload nanosatellites expand the number of opportunities available to conduct research in microgravity by providing an alternative to the International Space Station or space shuttle conducted investigations,” said Elwood Agasid, PharmaSat project manager.

NASA launched its first nanosatellite in 2006 with the GeneSat-1 mission, which tested E. coli bacteria. The success of GeneSat, which was also built at Ames, encouraged NASA to develop the PharmaSat nanosatellite and another nanosatellite scheduled for launch next year that will test how “microbes survive when directly exposed to the radiation, vacuum and other rigors of space,” according to The New York Times.

“The PharmaSat spacecraft builds upon the GeneSat-1 legacy with enhanced monitoring and measurement capabilities, which will enable more extensive scientific investigation,” said Agasid.

Reference: PharmaSat Web site and astronomy guide


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