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Biomedical research in space takes off from Naples

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The new Italian space economy is also visible in the numbers of the small and medium-sized space company emerging from Naples, the Space Factory that on Tuesday 30 January launched the fifth experiment on the International Space Station in just over two years, and the second in space of only ten days. In fact, a week ago, on board the Dragon spacecraft that brought Colonel Walter Velade to the International Space Station, another experiment was also launched, also carried out in the laboratories of Naples.

The fifth space launch in two years and the second in ten days, these are the numbers of the Space Factory group from Naples, which presents itself as one of the champions of the new Italian space economy. The winning idea of ​​Neapolitan researchers was to design and create a small robotic laboratory, which would be kept at a constant temperature on the International Space Station (ISS) and simply inserted into a standard rack, activate autonomously and could serve as an incubator for cells or organic tissues of a different nature. Through pre-programmed activation of insulin pumps, cells can be combined with molecular materials to study their interactions in microgravity. Once the programmed testing cycle is completed, the mini-laboratory shuts down autonomously and is then returned to Earth where the cells can be analysed.

The first trial was launched in 2021, “Readi Fp” (reducing inflammation associated with arthritis phase 1), coordinated by Prof. Gibino Falco Federico II, from the Department of Biology at the University of Naples, was used to evaluate the effects of microgravity on calcium loss from bone cells to identify potential resveratrol-based countermeasures, which could be used on Earth to treat osteoporosis; Then in 2023 came the turn of the Ovospace experiment designed by the professor’s team Mariano Bizzarri It was coordinated at the Department of Experimental Medicine of La Sapienza University in Rome, which aimed to study the developmental behavior in microgravity of oocytes for the treatment of infertility.

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The development of the mini-lab was initially financed by the Campania Region and the results achieved allowed for subsequent financing by Banca del Credito Cooperativo and Intesa SanPaolo, through the Nova+ tool, allowing the company to perfect the technology of the mini-lab. Automated laboratory and further biomedical research experiments on the International Space Station. So, in January, Ovospace Orion – funded by ASI – and Readi-Sp took off from Cape Canaveral just days apart, experiments that represent the second step of two research activities carried out in the past two years.

In 2024, Space Factory is planning two more in-orbit launches, the first scheduled for November also on the International Space Station and will see the debut of version 2.0 of the small robotic laboratory that will allow remote control and management of the Space Slime experiment; The second is expected in December for the small satellite Ireos-0. The latter is an orbital prototype that will test controlled re-entry techniques in space. In fact, Space Factory's strategy is to become independent of the ISS and Dragon capsules, developing and standardizing small satellites with currently built, NASA-certified laboratories inside them. In this way, the company hopes to be able to offer small research laboratories on the market to be launched repeatedly into space and with smaller, less expensive launch pads than the Falcon 9, able to operate in orbit autonomously and then return to space. and recover it.

These small satellites with autonomous and controlled re-entry capabilities will, according to Space Factory's plans, become the first low-cost commercial service for scientific experiments in microgravity independent of the International Space Station. The first test of the re-entry technology was successfully tested last year with a suborbital flight of the Mife small satellite developed by the Aerospace Research Center of Capua, also co-financed by the Campania Region as part of Por Fesr Campania 2014/2020 – Axis 1 priority “Research and Innovation “. The Space Factory employs about a dozen recent graduates and undergraduates from Federico II and undoubtedly represents a young and dynamic reality of the new space economy that aims to continue growing and developing.

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