TRISH is sending six research projects onboard Axiom Space's next mission, which is expected to launch in January. Photo via bcm.com

A Houston organization announced that it plans to launch six more experiments into space next year that look to learn more about everything from motion sickness to genome alterations during space travel.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, which is part of BCM’s Center for Space Medicine, will team up once more with Houston-based Axiom Space on its third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, Ax-3, which is expected to launch in January. TRISH also sent experiments on Axiom's Ax-2 mission that launched in May.

The experiments are part of TRISH's Enhancing eXploration Platforms and Analog Definition (EXPAND) program, which aims "to help humans thrive on future space missions," according to a release.

“Our commercial spaceflight partners such as Axiom Space are instrumental to cutting-edge research, including these projects designed to reveal how the human body and mind function in the extreme environment of space,” Dr. Emmanuel Urquieta, TRISH chief medical officer, EXPAND program lead and assistant professor in the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor. “This work represents an important step in our journey to understand the body's response to challenging conditions, which is critical for improving human health both here on Earth and on future long-duration missions, including to the Moon and Mars.”

The six project onboard Ax-3 include:

  • Cognitive and Physiologic Responses in Commercial Space Crew on Short-Duration Missions, Mathias Basner, M.D., Ph.D., M.S., University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine: Basner’s team will track spaceflight participants’ memory, abstraction, spatial orientation, emotion recognition, risk decision-making and sustained attention before and after space travel
  • Otolith and Posture Evaluation II, Mark Shelhamer, Sc.D., Johns Hopkins University: Shelhamer's team will study how inner ears and eyes sense and respond to motion before and immediately after spaceflight to predict who is likely to develop space motion sickness.
  • Space Omics + BioBank, Richard Gibbs, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine: Gibbs’ team will gather biological specimens from astronauts before and after their mission to assess the effects of spaceflight on the human body at the genomic level.
  • SANS Surveillance, TRISH: The institute will study Spaceflight Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome by collecting vision function data during the ground phases of the mission.
  • Standardized research questionnaires, TRISH: The institute will gather contextual and qualitative data points for its EXPAND research database related to sleep, personality, health history, team dynamics and immune-related symptoms.
  • Sensorimotor adaptation, TRISH: The institute will collect data on how spaceflight participants' ability to stand, balance and have full body control.

Ax-3 is Axiom's third commercial astronaut mission to the ISS, which the company announced in March. The crew, which includes Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Walter Villadei, and Mission Specialists Alper Gezeravcı and Marcus Wandt, will spend 14 days on the ISS. The mission will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

Axiom also has plans for its fourth private mission, Ax-4, which it announced in August.

In addition to the partnership with Axiom, TRISH also announced late last month that it has made a new agreement with the Australian Antarctic Division's Polar Medicine Unit. The collaboration will nominate pilot projects that focus on challenges associated with extreme isolation, which have applications in long-duration space travel to the Moon and Mars.

“Our international collaboration with the AAD will extract insights to benefit all future astronauts, as well as other explorers of extreme environments,” said Dr. Dorit Donoviel, associate professor in the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor and TRISH executive director. “This agreement marks the beginning of yet another exciting venture into space health research for TRISH, and we look forward to collaborating with the AAD to advance our shared goal of promoting safe human exploration.”

In March, TRISH also announced an international agreement with the Korea National Institute of Health. The two organizations plan to collaborate on research related to mental health issues due to space travel, the challenges of food supply in deep space, the negative effects of space radiation and en-suite medical care for long-duration space travel.

TRISH is also slated to launch nine experiments on board SpaceX's Polaris Dawn mission, which is now expected to launch no earlier than 2024. The research aboard Polaris Dawn is intended to complement research supported by TRISH on the Inspiration4 all-civilian mission to orbit.
Axiom Space has announced plans for its third commercial space launch and revealed details of its high-tech spacesuit. Photo courtesy of NASA

Houston space tech company secures third NASA mission, reveals new spacesuits

ready for liftoff

A Houston-based space tech company has revealed details on two of its commercial partnerships with NASA.

NASA and Axiom Space have again signed a mission order for a private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. The mission will commence sometime in November or on and will be from the agency’s NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Axiom Mission 3 is the third mission of its kind and, according to a statement from NASA, is expected to be a 14-day trip.

The ISS's Multilateral Crew Operations Panel will approve four proposed crew members and two back up crew submitted by Axiom for the Ax-3 mission. The crew will be expected to train for their flight with NASA, international partners, and SpaceX beginning this spring, according to NASA.

“Axiom Space’s selection to lead the next private astronaut mission to the International Space Station enables us to continue expanding access to nations, academia, commercial entities, and emerging industries to research, test, and demonstrate new technologies in microgravity,” says Michael Suffredini, CEO and president of Axiom Space, in the release. “As NASA’s focus shifts back to the Moon and on to Mars, we are committed to transforming low-Earth orbit into a global space marketplace, where access to space moves beyond the partners of the space station to nations, institutions and individuals with new ideas fueling a thriving human economy beyond Earth.”

Axiom's historic first commercial launch was in spring of 2022, and Ax-2, which will launch the first Saudi astronauts to visit the ISS, is expected to launch this spring. In addition to these two missions, Axiom has been tasked by NASA to develop spacesuits and space station technology.

After several months of working on the suits, Axiom has revealed the details of the technology that will be worn by NASA astronauts returning to the moon on the Artemis III mission that's scheduled to land near the lunar south pole in 2025.

The newly revealed spacesuit will be worn by the first woman and first person of color to visit the moon. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

“We’re carrying on NASA’s legacy by designing an advanced spacesuit that will allow astronauts to operate safely and effectively on the Moon,” says Suffredini in a statement from the company. “Axiom Space’s Artemis III spacesuit will be ready to meet the complex challenges of the lunar south pole and help grow our understanding of the Moon in order to enable a long-term presence there.”

Called the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or AxEMU, the prototype was revealed at Space Center Houston’s Moon 2 Mars Festival today, March 15. According to Axiom, a full fleet of training spacesuits will be delivered to NASA by late this summer.

At the same time as the Ax-3 mission announcement, NASA also announced that it has selected Firefly Aerospace of Cedar Park, Texas, to carry multiple payloads to the far side of the Moon. According to NASA, the commercial lander will deliver two agency payloads, as well as communication and data relay satellite for lunar orbit, which is an European Space Agency collaboration with NASA.

The contract — awarded for around $112 million — is targeted to launch in 2026 through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, initiative, and part of the agency’s Artemis program. It's the second award to Firefly under the CLPS initiative.

“The diversity of currently available commercial orbital human spaceflight opportunities is truly astounding. NASA’s commercial crew flights to the space station for our government astronauts paved the way for fully private missions to space like Inspiration4 and Polaris as well as private astronaut missions to the orbiting laboratory like the one we are announcing today,” says Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in the release. “We are starting to see the incorporation of space into our economic sphere, and it is going to revolutionize the way people see, use, and experience space.”

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.