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The hunt is on

Electronic nose functioning perfectly aboard the ISS

Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko using the e-nose to measure traces of bacterial contamination aboard the ISSThe e-nose was launched into space on 19 December 2012 aboard a Soyuz rocket. The purpose of this scientific experiment, managed by Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen as prime contractor, is to hunt down traces of fungi and bacteria in the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS). After functional testing and commissioning, the experimental system is now up and running aboard the space station. The first series of biological measurements was successfully completed in February this year. A second series commenced in April and a third is planned for mid-May.

Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko using the e-nose to measure traces of bacterial contamination aboard the ISS

The first set of tests was carried out by Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko. It involved carrying out measurements at various points in the space station to ascertain whether there is contamination by bacteria and fungi. Early detection is important because excessive exposure to fungi and bacteria poses a not inconsiderable risk to both the on-board technology and the health of the crew.

After the third series of measurements has been completed in mid-May, the memory card on which the e-nose stores the collected data will be sent back to Earth together with the ‘target book’ containing material samples. Russian scientists from the Institute for Biological and Medical Problems (IBMP) will be waiting at the landing site in Kazakhstan to collect the sensitive consignment and assure its safe transport in cool boxes to Moscow. There, the biological samples will be handed over to Airbus Defence and Space project manager Thomas Hummel, who will bring them to the German city of Munich as quickly as possible for delivery to Innovation Works, the AIRBUS Group’s research centre, where the samples will be analysed in collaboration with Russian scientists from the IBMP.

In parallel with the e-nose measurements, samples are being collected aboard the space station using standard biological techniques. The two sets of data will then be compared. If similar results are obtained by both methods, the electronic-nose sensing system will be qualified for permanent use on the ISS.

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