It’s easy to forget that the International Space Station isn’t just a place for astronauts to hang out and take epic selfies. Because of its unique microgravity environment, the station is actually avaluable hub for research and development, housing hundreds of ongoing experiments that involve everything from human tissue growth to protein crystal formation.
Except there’s one little snag when it comes to conducting experiments on the ISS: It’s kind of far away. Getting critical samples from the station to Earth can be a lengthy process, and researchers usually have to wait anywhere from six months to a year before samples can make the trip to laboratories on the ground. These long waits can be risky, as live biological samples have a perishable lifespan and often need to be reviewed quickly before they degrade.
Well now, private spaceflight company Intuitive Machines has a solution to this problem. In cooperation with NASA, the company is developing the Terrestrial Return Vehicle (TRV), a spacecraft that can deliver experiment samples from station to Earth in less than 24 hours. Think of it as same-day shipping for the ISS. Such a short sample return time opens up more opportunities for research on the ISS that could never have been done before.
“Those experiment samples are left stranded on board until we can get a whole vehicle up there packed with 5,000 pounds of return cargo,” Steve Altemus, president of Intuitive Machines, tellsPopular Science. “In our paradigm, we have opportunities to come home every single day, bringing critical samples home when they’re needed.”