CASIS To Solicit Space Station Science Proposals in June

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Florida-based Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the nonprofit selected last year to manage non-NASA science activities aboard the international space station (ISS), said it will solicit research proposals in June from the science community.

Jim Royston, interim executive director for CASIS, made the announcement here April 17 at the 28th National Space Symposium. Bidding on the forthcoming solicitation will remain open for 45 to 60 days, Royston said.

“We really identified the areas of focus that we want to get really moving on,” Royston said during a press conference.

CASIS, which has about $3 million in annual grant money available, is specifically seeking proposals in five areas of medical- and life-science research: osteoporosis; muscle wasting; immune system compromise; antigenicity, or the immune system’s ability to trigger the release of disease-fighting antigens into the body; and protein crystallization.

It is still not clear when the CASIS will send its first payload to ISS. After the company selects the winning proposals, it will have to find rides to space for them. Any proposal where some payload must be returned to the ground from space will either have to return on a Russian Soyuz vehicle or the as-yet-unproven Space Exploration Technologies Dragon freighter — the only planned U.S. cargo hauler with the ability to return payloads from ISS. Dragon is scheduled to start flights to ISS later this year.

Royston also said that CASIS is also preparing to collect unsolicited proposals for research — both funded and unfunded — through its website, but Royston offered no details as to when that would begin.

Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida and interim chairman of CASIS’s board of directors, said the focus on these five areas was the result of an earlier review conducted by a group of consulting scientists who weighed the merits of various types of research. Among the considerations: how quickly results could be turned around to researchers on the ground, and how great the potential was for some commercial application of these results.

DiBello said the review was deliberately filled with scientists who did not specialize in space-based research in an effort to avoid a space-industry bias whereby space research is encouraged for its own sake. “In the space business sometimes, we have a tendency to drink our own bath water,” DiBello said.

Space Florida, the state’s economic development agency for aerospace, funded a proposal supported by Boeing Co. and others that eventually resulted in the formation of CASIS. The group was chosen by NASA to manage nonagency science after beating out at least one other pitch that proposed locating the ISS national laboratory manager in Cleveland. The losing proposal was a collaboration between the Universities Space Research Association in Columbia, Md., and Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, called Space Laboratory Associates.

CASIS will receive a total of $15 million in federal funding each year. On April 12, the group announced that it will pay $1.5 million to resell research space on the exterior of the ISS. CASIS will also solicit proposals for research utilizing that platform in June. The external platform will be built by NanoRacks and Astrium North America, a subsidiary of Germany’s Astrium GmbH. The companies expect to finish building the platform sometime in 2013 and to begin testing it the year after.