Airbus Defence and Space

Airbus Defence and Space Enables Protein Growth Onboard ISS

Friedrichshafen, 27 March 2009 - Another success for the space experts of Airbus Defence and Space. After having successfully launched the Goce Earth observation satellite last week, the engineers of Europe's largest space company are now in a position to announce further success.

In the Columbus space laboratory aboard the International Space Station ISS, the crew members of the Discovery space shuttle have successfully installed and operated the PCDF experiment facility. With the help of the PCDF instrument, the scientists will investigate the growth of proteins under zero gravity conditions.

  • Astronauts start operation of the PCDF experiment facility built by Airbus Defence and Space
  • Scientists hope to gain information for new medicine development


The PCDF facility was developed and built in the "Payload & Life Support Centre" of Airbus Defence and Space Friedrichshafen on behalf of the European Space Agency ESA. It shall investigate the nucleation and crystallisation of protein molecules from solutions. For this purpose, the PCDF accommodates special diagnostics instruments (microscope and interferometer). Airbus Defence and Space Aquitaine teams provided the design, production and integration of four sub-systems of PCDF mostly in the temperature-regulated chamber containing the crystallisation reactors and their temperature control device.

After the launch of the U.S. space shuttle Discovery from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the early morning of 16 March, the Airbus Defence and Space development team of the Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility (PCDF) anxiously waited for the moment when the astronauts brought the facility into the European Columbus laboratory. On last Friday, 20 March, the PCDF was integrated into the European Drawer Rack (EDR) for scientific operation and is now successfully operating. "All sub-systems work as scheduled.", happily states Project Manager Robert Bosch.  

The possibility to transmit  video images out of the PCDF to Earth ensures that the scientists are always informed about the current experiment progress. Via telecommands from the ground, the facility also offers the possibility of intervening into the experiment processes and influencing them in order to obtain maximum results.

The four experiments of the facility will be conducted by the end of June 2009 and subsequently returned to Earth aboard a space shuttle.

Zero gravity on the ISS helps to prevent the occurrence of negative sedimentation impacts known from ground experiments and supports undisturbed crystal formation. Precise knowledge of the nucleation process is crucial to grow sufficiently homogeneous and large crystals which may provide information on the protein molecule via the so-called x-ray diffraction. This, in turn, can play an important role, for example, in pharmacy in the development of new medicine.


About Airbus Defence and Space:

Airbus Defence and Space, a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services. In 2008, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover of €4.3 billion and 13,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are Airbus Defence and Space for launchers and orbital infrastructure, Airbus Defence and Space for spacecraft and ground segment and Airbus Defence and Space for the development and delivery of satellite services.

AIRBUS Group is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2008, AIRBUS Group generated revenues of €43.3 billion and employed a workforce of more than 118, 000.


Press contacts:

Jeremy Close (Airbus Defence and Space UK)                                         Tel.: +44 (0)1 438 77 3872

Matthieu Duvelleroy (Airbus Defence and Space FR)                               Tel.: +33 (0) 1 77 75 80 32

Mathias Pikelj (Airbus Defence and Space GER)                                      Tel.: +49 (0) 7545 8 9123

Francisco Lechón (Airbus Defence and Space SP)                                   Tel.: +34 91 586 37 41

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