Matthias Maurer will carry out over 100 experiments on board the International Space Station ISS during his Cosmic Kiss mission – 36 of them with German involvement. They range from fundamental research to application-oriented science in fields such as life sciences, materials science, physics, medicine, technology development, artificial intelligence and Earth observation.
Here is a brief overview of some of the German experiments:
EMS – A new suit will support exercise on the ISS
The muscles in the torso and limbs provide the body with the stability required for human movement. On Earth, our muscles have to work against gravity, which allows them to grow stronger naturally. To prevent muscle atrophy and the resulting bone loss in microgravity, astronauts on the ISS exercise for around two and a half hours every day. Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) is a modern strengthening technique in which muscles are stimulated by applying electrical impulses. Combining targeted exercises with the underlying muscle tension achieved using EMS can significantly increase the efficiency of exercise. On board the ISS, Maurer will use a specialised EMS suit to complement his exercise programme, which consists of running, cycling and strength training.
The EasyMotion (EMS-TECH) technology demonstration is being carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR in Bonn and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie; BMWi). The EMS project is carried out under the scientific leadership of the Centre for Space Medicine at the Charité in Berlin and the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) of the European Space Agency (ESA). The EasyMotionSkin training system and the accompanying app have been developed by EMS GmbH and adapted for use in space. German space company OHB System AG qualified the system for the mission.
Bioprint – Rapid wound treatment using bio-ink
On longer space exploration missions, skin injuries, muscle injuries and bone fractures need to be treated quickly and effectively. In the Bioprint First Aid experiment, Maurer will test innovative 3D bioprinting on the ISS for the first time. Initially, the ink will consist of fluorescent microparticles. In the near future, a bio-ink consisting of the body's own skin cells will be directly applied to treat superficial wounds. The material produced by the bioprinter will cover the affected area like a plaster and accelerate wound healing by facilitating the formation of new skin tissue. In the future, this technology will be used during space exploration missions as well as for humans on Earth.
The Bioprint First Aid technology demonstration is being carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR in Bonn and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). German space company OHB System AG developed and assembled the system and qualified it for the mission. Scientific support for the project is being provided by the Technical University of Dresden.
Cellbox-3 – What we can learn about the cells in our body in space
Cells and the processes that take place within them are affected by gravity. How do these processes differ under microgravity conditions in space, and what can we learn about cell processes on Earth by studying these changes? To answer these and other questions, three-dimensional multicellular models of bone marrow and co-cultures of skeletal muscle cells and nerve cells will be studied in microgravity in the Cellbox-3 experiment. This research will improve our understanding of blood formation in bone marrow and the molecular processes involved in supplying muscles with nerve cells. The results should advance the development of effective therapies against immune diseases and muscle weakness.
Cellbox-3 is being carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR in Bonn and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). It consists of the NEMUCO experiment, under the scientific leadership of the Charité in Berlin, and the SHAPE experiment, led by the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt. On board the ISS, Cellbox-3 will be conducted in the fully automated micro-laboratories of yuri GmbH, a company based in Meckenbeuren.
Thermo-Mini – Monitoring changes in body temperature during long-term space missions
A longer stay in space leads to a prolonged increase in the body's core temperature. This 'space fever' poses a potential risk to astronaut health – especially during exercise and extra-vehicular activities. The Thermo-Mini experiment will record Maurer's core body temperature and circadian rhythm using a miniaturised thermal sensor strapped to his forehead in a non-invasive manner. The data obtained will help improve our understanding of this phenomenon and, above all, prove that this small thermal sensor is suitable for long-term use in space. A future version could be used in hospitals, by people working in extreme environments on Earth such as miners or firefighters and included in standard astronaut health monitoring.
Thermo-Mini is being carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR in Bonn and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The project is under the scientific direction of the Centre of Aerospace Medicine at the Charité in Berlin. The miniaturised sensor was developed and adapted for use in space by Dräger GmbH.
MetabolicSpace – Breathing gas analysis indicates performance
The objective of MetabolicSpace, an industry-driven experiment, is to develop a personal, smart breathing gas analysis system that can be worn on the body and does not restrict movement. It is designed to be easy to use, automatically evaluate data, and determine physical performance without exhausting the test person. A cardiovascular stress profile is developed for this purpose so that the astronaut or space tourist does not have to train at their stress limit. The previous systems consist of a mask system attached to the user's head or a frame. The gases are extracted via hoses to an external unit, where they are analysed by various sensors. The tubes between the mask and the external unit do not allow freedom of movement during training, and performance is impaired. Automatic data evaluation procedures with a self-diagnosis function and an easy-to-understand display, especially for the non-medical sports sector, are not yet available on the market. The findings could also be used for professional athletes.
MetabolicSpace is being carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR in Bonn and financed by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The project is carried out under the scientific leadership of the Institute of Aerospace Engineering at Technical University of Dresden. CORTEX Biophysik GmbH provided the mobile MetaMax3b system, which was originally developed for use on Earth. The scientists involved in the project and various doctoral students then developed it for use in an experiment to be conducted by astronauts in space.
DOSIS 3D MINI – Measuring the radiation exposure of the entire space station
The DOSIS 3D MINI experiment seeks to increase our understanding of the radiation environment on board the ISS. Since 2012, the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine together with international partners has been conducting the experiment in the European Columbus module of the ISS. They are using passive and active radiation detectors to determine the distribution of radiation exposure. For these measurements, 11 passive radiation detector packages (PDPs) are brought to the ISS every six months to measure the radiation exposure at these specific locations in Columbus for six months. Matthias Maurer's Cosmic Kiss mission now provides researchers with the opportunity to extend DOSIS 3D to other areas on the ISS. Matthias Maurer will be taking additional detectors to the ISS, which he will install at 10 different locations outside the European laboratory. These new data will then be combined with the long-term data set generated in Columbus as part of the previous DOSIS-3D experiment in order to create a 3D dosage map of the entire ISS. The radiation field on the ISS will also serve as a test environment for detectors, with potential applications in radiotherapy.
IMMUNO-2 – What weakens our immune system?
The IMMUNO-2 experiment examines the stress-related weakening of the immune system of astronauts and people on Earth in order to develop effective countermeasures. IMMUNO-2 continues investigations that have been ongoing since 2015 into the function of the immune system during extended human spaceflight missions. In addition to microgravity and radiation, a variety of stress factors such as isolation, heavy workload and disruption to sleep patterns are among the causes of an astronaut's weakened immune system. Healthy people on Earth struggle with similar immune system problems, and seriously ill people especially so, in part triggered by the same stress factors. Immuno-2 provides a holistic approach combining biochemical analysis with psychological tests to correlate changes in the immune systems and hormone levels of ISS astronauts with their stress levels. Comparisons with isolation and bed rest studies will provide insights into the role of individual factors that cause an imbalance in the immune system and the mechanism of cellular immune defence in general. This knowledge is the prerequisite for developing new preventive and therapeutic measures for astronauts as well as for the critically ill in intensive care.
Immuno2 is being carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR in Bonn and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The project is scientifically led by the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and conducted in collaboration with the University of Mannheim, the Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP, Moscow, Russia), the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK-CEN, Mol, Belgium), the University of Milan (Italy), the University of Basel (Switzerland) and the University of Nijmegen (Netherlands).
Myotones – Improving rehabilitation in the event of muscle and bone loss
The Myotones project aims to analyse the basic biomechanical properties of skeletal muscles using a small, non-invasive hand-held device. MyotonPRO facilitates the measurement and evaluation of changes to the resting human muscle tone, elasticity and stiffness caused by microgravity in astronauts on board the ISS. The device measures the passive properties of the skeletal muscles close to the skin using a similar technique to a doctor examining tension and stiffening by manipulating the relaxed muscles with their hands. A short mechanical impulse is applied to the skin's surface, and the oscillation of the underlying muscle is measured digitally. The data provides precise information about the elasticity, stiffness and tone of the examined resting muscle. This method can also be used to monitor and better evaluate the success of countermeasures against muscle and bone atrophy in the form of sports programmes before, during and after the astronauts' stay on the ISS. On Earth, the findings can be used to optimise rehabilitation and training programmes and for objective evaluation of training success in fitness and competitive sports.
Myotones is being carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at the DLR in Bonn and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The project is being carried out under the scientific leadership of the Centre for Space Medicine at the Charité in Berlin (Germany) and the University of Southampton (UK). The miniaturised sensor was developed and adapted for use in space by the Estonian company Myoton AS.
Materials science experiments
EML, TRANSPARENT-1 and MSL – Modern materials made to measure
Melting experiments on the ISS help improve the technology used in the industrial casting processes of high-tech materials on Earth. Producing new, lighter versions of complex machine parts, such as aircraft turbine blades and engine casings, leads to lighter aircraft and cars with lower fuel consumptions. In this research, samples are melted and re-solidified in various ISS melting furnaces such as the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML), the TRANSPARENT-1 facility and the Material Science Laboratory (MSL). These processes can be carried out more precisely in space as microgravity conditions reduce the complex flows in the material that occur in laboratories on Earth. The resulting data on the properties of metal and alloy melts, such as their viscosity, surface tension and crystal growth under microgravity, are in high demand as they are used in the optimisation of the computer models that simulate and improve industrial casting processes.
The melting experiments will be carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR and ESA. The DLR Institute of Materials Physics in Space and ACCESS Aachen e.V are among the parties involved.
Concrete Hardening – Concrete mixtures for space exploration
Cement is one of humankind's oldest building materials. Combined with water and an aggregate, it is used to produce concrete, an important modern building material. In its viscous state, concrete is a multi-layered mixture. As the water chemically binds to the cement, the ‘paste’ hardens. On Earth, this solidification is strongly influenced by gravity, which ensures that the high-density components fall to the bottom and are deposited on the ground. Previous investigations on board the ISS have been limited to the solidification of pure cement. In the Concrete-Hardening project, Maurer will investigate for the first time how different concrete mixtures – containing cement, sand or 'Moon dust' regolith combined with water and various admixtures such as air-entraining agents – harden in microgravity. This research will facilitate the development of new, improved concrete mixtures that can be created in the future for use as building material for astronaut habitats on lunar and Mars missions and for sustainable housing construction on Earth.
Concrete Hardening is being carried out under the scientific direction of the DLR Institute of Materials Physics in Space. The experimental containers were developed as part of a collaboration between the universities of Cologne and Duisburg-Essen and BioTESC in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Cold Atoms Lab – Ultracold atoms for future technology
The Cold Atoms Lab (CAL) will make it possible to study ultracold atoms and Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC) under microgravity conditions over an extended period of time for the first time. In this unique ISS laboratory, clouds of rubidium and potassium atoms will be cooled down to temperatures extremely close to absolute zero using a laser and confined with a magnetic field to create a Bose-Einstein condensate. These BECs behave like a single 'giant atom' on which quantum phenomena can be observed at the macroscopic level. Experiments performed using these ultracold atoms will test important predictions of quantum physics and other fundamental theories such as Einstein's general theory of relativity. These long-term experiments will also advance the development of state-of-the-art integrated circuit technology, miniaturised laser modules and high-precision clocks and sensors. Among other benefits, these developments could help make satellite navigation even more precise in future.
CAL is a NASA experiment facility in the US Destiny module on the ISS. It was developed and built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Due to a partnership between the German Space Agency at DLR and NASA, the facility is jointly used by German and US researchers. The universities of Hanover, Ulm (Germany) and Rochester (USA) are also involved in the scientific management.
Touching Surfaces – testing antimicrobial surfaces
Long-term stays of astronauts in a space station lead to the development of microflora from the microorganisms carried on board. This can impact the health of the astronauts – especially if their composition changes under the conditions of space flight. It has been shown that biofilms that develop can even lead to material damage. Touching Surfaces will examine new types of surfaces and test them for their antimicrobial efficiency in space. Such 'biocidal' surfaces can provide crucial support for future cabin hygiene measures in space and on Earth. These new surfaces can be used in all areas where antibacterial hygiene is important.
Touching Surfaces is under the scientific direction of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine and carried out in cooperation with the University of Saarland, the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences (Germany) and the University College London (UK).
BIOFILMS – Understanding the formation of bacterial biofilms
The BIOFILMS experiment will examine the formation of bacterial biofilms on antimicrobial metal surfaces on the ISS. The experiment uses laser technology to create nano-sized structures on various metal surfaces that prevent bacteria from settling. The objective is to study how different surfaces and the bacteria/biofilms interact under space conditions. The overall aim is to contain the contamination with microorganisms during space travel and prevent material damage. These processes provide a fundamental understanding of the formation of biofilms and can also play a role in reducing exposure to bacteria, including in hospitals and in industry.
The BIOFILMS experiment will be carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR and ESA. The DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine and the University of Saarland are involved in the scientific research.
Technology testing and artificial intelligence
Floating brains and mobile retinal scanners – AI projects assist astronauts
On Earth, virtual assistants support people in a variety of ways as they go about their daily work. A similar system will also help Maurer complete his daily tasks and run experiments on the ISS. However, this ‘extraterrestrial companion' is capable of much more than its Earthly counterparts. CIMON (Crew Interactive MObile companioN) is a part of the crew and acts as an intelligent floating assistant to the astronauts. Equipped with artificial intelligence (AI), it is intended to support the astronauts in their daily work and improve the efficiency of activities on the space station via human-machine interaction. Following the successful demonstration of CIMON's technology by astronauts Alexander Gerst and Luca Parmitano, the focus is now on potential research applications. The mobile crew assistant will communicate with Maurer to guide and support him as he carries out complex scientific work. In addition to the support it provides on the ISS, CIMON will also drive innovation on Earth regarding robotic applications in the fields of industrial production, education, medicine and care.
In the field of medicine, for example, CIMON could soon assist the Retinal Diagnostics project. Here, an ocular lens used for routine clinical diagnostic operations will be used as an adapter for mobile devices such as a smartphone or tablet. On the ISS, the system will be used to take images of Maurer's retina to detect Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS). The ways in which Maurer’s eye changes and moves will be recorded, examined and evaluated. These videos will be transferred to mobile devices to test and train AI models that will then be used to automatically detect any retinal changes in astronauts in the future. CIMON is ideally suited to help here. Combining the AI crew assistant and AI retinal diagnostics system is advantageous in terms of cost, payload size, weight and diagnostic capabilities. It would also be suitable for use on long-duration space exploration flights such as those of the ARTEMIS programme. On Earth, the AI-based Retinal Diagnostics project is revolutionising the ability to detect diseases via retinal changes using a mobile system.
CIMON was commissioned by the German Space Agency at DLR with funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and carried out by Airbus. It was developed for use in the European Columbus module on the ISS. Voice-controlled artificial intelligence is provided by Watson AI technology from the AI cloud. The human aspects of the assistance system have been jointly developed and supervised by researchers at the medical centre at the Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich. A team of around 50 people from DLR, Airbus, IBM and the LMU have been working on implementing CIMON since August 2016. The Retinal Diagnostics experiment is under scientific direction of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine and receives technical support from ESA's European Astronaut Centre (EAC).
Wireless Compose 2 – Wireless communications network on the ISS for long-term analysis of the cardiovascular system
The Wireless Compose 2 experiment tests a flexible and wireless communications network that measures the relevant physiological data of astronauts on the ISS with the help of a smart T-shirt. It therefore investigates the effects of the space environment on the cardiovascular system. Such long-term observations are important to prepare for future crewed space missions to the Moon and Mars. On Earth, the technology could be transferred to applications in the fields of fitness and telemedicine for detailed analysis and monitoring of the cardiovascular system. Wireless Compose 2 is the continuation of the successful ISS experiment Wireless Compose, a wireless communications network for receiving data efficiently and pinpointing the locations of objects within the ISS. Based on the findings, an optimised system that is smaller, more energy efficient and designed to carry out more accurate measurements is being developed as part of Wireless Compose 2. In addition, Wireless Compose 2 will expand the possibilities of such sensor networks by providing a platform to connect and conduct further related scientific experiments.
The experiment was designed and prepared by the DLR Institute of Space Systems. The company Hohenstein Laboratories developed and provided the SmartTex T-Shirt, which was already used in the ISS experiment SPACETEX 1 & 2. The ballistocardiography measurements are carried out in cooperation with space company DSI Aerospace Technologie GmbH, which also supplied the sensors. The experiment will be supervised by the Medical Faculty of Bielefeld University. The resulting data will be temporarily stored within the network and retrieved by the astronaut at regular intervals. These data packets will then be transferred to Earth via the ISS connection for evaluation by the DLR research team.
VR-OBT Virtual Reality – On-board Training
VR-OBT aims to advance the field of in-orbit astronaut training using the latest standalone VR technology. Innovative and intuitive VR training for complex maintenance activities on board the ISS is being developed as part of the project. Unlike the current on-board training regimen (OBT), VR-OBT will allow crew members to interact with complex hardware and physically mimic complex tasks. 'Learning by doing' is an effective method for consolidating and practising challenging tasks. VR-OBT will enable training during a space mission, which is usually only possible with simulators or analogue training hardware on Earth.
VR-OBT is managed by DLR at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne in partnership with ESA and with support from the French space agency CNES.
Laplace – Examining dust growth and planet formation
The process of planetary formation has not yet been completely understood. Crucial information is missing about how the smallest dust particles develop into bodies on the scale of kilometres, such as asteroids, comets and planetesimals. Laplace will replicate the processes that occurred around four and a half billion years ago when tiny dust particles within the solar nebula gently agglomerated to form growing structures over time. This growth will be investigated using free-floating dust samples to demonstrate realistic conditions for planet formation. The nebula gas is represented in the experiment by a thin residual gas atmosphere into which a cloud of microscopic dust particles is introduced. The Laplace experiment will investigate exactly how this growth takes place to enable conclusions to be drawn about the formation of macroscopic bodies in the early Solar System.
Laplace is being carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR in Bonn and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The project is being carried out under the scientific direction of the Technical University of Braunschweig (Germany), with input from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium), the University of Central Florida (USA) and Space Applications Services NV / SA (Belgium).
ICARUS – Monitoring animal migrations around the world
ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) monitors animal migrations around the world. Small transmitters fitted to animals collect information about their migratory behaviour and relay it to the ISS. This information is entered into a database and will help us find out more about the way animals live and improve our understanding of climate change and the spread of diseases as well as the relationship between animal migration and food security in critical regions. The system, which was largely developed by German SMEs, has been in operation on the ISS since autumn 2020 and works more precisely and reliably than previous iterations.
ICARUS is being carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR and the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos. Numerous scientists worldwide are working together on the ICARUS project. The international scientific consortium is led by the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour in Radolfzell on Lake Constance. The Max Planck Society has been funding the miniaturisation of the transmitters for the project since December 2013. The German Space Agency at DLR is supporting the testing of the new transmitters and the associated transmitters and receivers on the ISS with funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi).