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Maui-built bio lab prepares for second launch in 2021

Mobile SpaceLab was launched in February and returned in April

Members of SCORPIO-V, a division of HNu Photonics based in Kahului, work on the Mobile SpaceLab-2, which is scheduled to launch in early 2021 on the SpX-22, a future resupply mission to the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of Dan O’Connell, Hnu Photonics

A mobile space lab designed and largely fabricated in Central Maui successfully returned from orbit in April, and now the team of engineers and biologists are preparing for its second mission to continue conducting experiments on the International Space Station.

SCORPIO-V, the biological sciences division of HNu Photonics based in Kahului, has designed a tissue- and cell-culturing facility that can perform biology experiments in space without crew monitoring for as long as a month.

“The Mobile SpaceLab was able to successfully complete all on-orbit operations over a six-week span via HNu Photonics’ remote ground control center located in Kahului,” Dan O’Connell, the founder and owner of HNu, said in an email Tuesday afternoon.

Team members will look at how the environment in space might accelerate age-related declines in human neurons or brain cells.

O’Connell added that the multimillion-dollar Mobile SpaceLab was a “successful demonstration of the system’s on-orbit capabilities” and is now preparing for another launch into orbit early next year on SpX-22, a commercial resupply service mission to the International Space Station. The mission is contracted by NASA and will be flown by SpaceX using a cargo Dragon, which was also used in the first launch.

For the first mission (MoSL-1), the Mobile SpaceLab, which is about the size of a large microwave weighing in at 65 pounds, was launched Feb. 15 on Northrup Grumman’s CRS-13 International Space Station resupply mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. It returned to earth in the SpX-20 Dragon 1 capsule on April 7 with a Pacific Ocean landing.

NASA retrieved and unloaded the Mobile SpaceLab from the Dragon capsule on April 9, and returned it to HNu Photonics for post-flight analysis on April 16.

The entire space program has seen some delays as a result of COVID-19; however, the pandemic did not directly affect the Mobile SpaceLab’s first mission since the launch and other required operations were completed prior.

There were some “development delays” for Mobile SpaceLab-2, or the second mission, when the SCORPIO-V team was tasked with building ventilators for Maui County, but the delays did not significantly impact the SpX-22 launch schedule.

O’Connell said that prior to flight and during on-orbit operations for Mobile SpaceLab-1, the SCORPIO-V team worked “around the clock to ensure mission success.”

“This teamwork is a testament to the hard work, skill and dedication of the SCORPIO-V team to accomplish a successful MoSL-1 mission,” he said.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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