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Satellite Missions Catalogue

Eu:CROPIS (Euglena and Combined Regenerative Organic-Food Production in Space)

Last updated:Jan 27, 2017



Mission complete



Quick facts


Mission typeNon-EO
Mission statusMission complete
Launch date03 Dec 2018
End of life date31 Dec 2019

Eu:CROPIS (Euglena and Combined Regenerative Organic-Food Production in Space)

Spacecraft    Launch    Mission Status    Experiment Complement    Ground Segment    References

Eu:CROPIS is an Earth-orbiting minisatellite of DLR (German Aerospace Center) with the objective to study food production in space in support of future long-duration manned space missions (life sciences). The main payloads are two greenhouses, each maintained as a pressurized closed loop system, simulating the environmental conditions of the Moon or of Mars. Numerous cameras and sensors on board will observe the growth of vegetables (tomatoes) in space. The mission was proposed by the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne and the Cell Biology Division of the University of Erlangen. Eu:CROPIS is the name of both, the mission as well as the primary payload 1 (payload 1comprises 2 greenhouses, referred to as compartment 1 and compartment 2) on-board the DLR Compact Satellite bus. A mission duration of 18 months is foreseen. 1)

Seeking to simulate the different levels of gravity on Mars and the Moon, engineers at the DLR Institute of Space Systems and the DLR Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems are developing and building a 250 kg minisatellite, designed to rotate around its longitudinal axis while orbiting Earth at an altitude of about 600 km. In doing so, it will replicate lunar gravity, that is 0.16 times that of Earth, or 0.38 times – the gravity on Mars – depending on the rotational speed. The first of the two greenhouses will operate under lunar conditions over the first six months, while the second greenhouse will operate in a Martian environment for the following six months. During the entire period, the two greenhouses will be fitted in a pressure container made of carbon-fiber composite materials, built to maintain a constant internal pressure of one bar. 2) 3) 4) 5)

Scientific Objectives

A problem in human space flight is the processing of urine. Water is the only component that is recycled so far. All dissolved substances such as urea and salts are extracted from the urine and then disposed. In the future however, the urine of habitat residents could be used in a closed system to grow fruits and vegetables after proper conversion. Eu:CROPIS shall prove this concept under varying gravity conditions. Two life support systems within the satellite will be combined for producing biomass out of urine. The used biological systems are: a nitrifying trickle filter system being a nitrogen source and the single-celled algae Euglena Gracilis as oxygen producing element. The algae also protect the whole system against high level of ammonia, which can occur during a low nitrification process.

Euglena uses gravity and light as hints to reach and stay in regions of the water column optimal for photosynthesis and growth. It has been established as a model organism for studying gravity perception of single cells and was subject to several experiments in space. The trickle filter system is made of lava rock, which is used as a habitat for a variety of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and protozoa. The high degree of adaptability of this system with respect to organismic diversity allows the use for the degradation and detoxification of various substances passing through the filter tube. As higher plant system small tomatoes (Micro-Tina) will be used for biomass production.

The scientific goal is a seed to seed experiment under gravity levels as on the lunar surface (0.16 g) as well as on the surface of Mars (0.38 g). During each six months lasting experimentation, ion concentrations in the water based flow will be measured by ion chromatography and molecular biological analysis will be performed with Euglena cells. The Eu:CROPIS long term experiment will serve the purpose of feasibility and technology demonstration in the field of combined biological life support systems and gravitational biological research on a compact satellite system.

Eu:CROPIS Carries also Secondary Experiments

• PowerCells in Space: Payload 2, the experiment is to measure photosynthesis in algae (NASA/AMES).

• RAMIS (Radiation Measurements in Space): The Payload 3 goal is to collect data on long-term exposure to cosmic radiation over the course of the space flight (DLR)

• SCORE: Payload 4 is a technology demonstrator for next generation on-board computing in hardware and software. SCORE was developed by the DLR Institute of Space Systems. SCORE is complemented by a set of three digital cameras that are commanded via SCORE.

The satellite mission was initiated by DLR Programmdirektion Weltraum with overall mission responsibility by DLR/RY (Bremen). Similarly to the BIRD mission, DLR shows its ability to design, develop and operate a satellite completely on its own. The scientific part of the mission is under supervision of DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine and the University of Erlangen. The ground segment consists of DLR Space Operations with the ground station Weilheim and GSOC as control center.


Figure 1: Artist's rendition of tomato cultivation in a controlled environment for lunar and Mars habitats (image credit: DLR)
Figure 1: Artist's rendition of tomato cultivation in a controlled environment for lunar and Mars habitats (image credit: DLR)



The 250 kg spin stabilized minisatellite is being designed and built by the DLR Institute for Space Systems (Bremen) and will be operated by GSOC (German Space Operations Center). Payload 1 and Payload 2 demand different levels of gravity for their experiments, which is realized at different positions within the cylinder. The satellite contains four gyroscopes, two magnetometers and three magnetic torque rods with a maximum magnetic moment of 30 Am2 for attitude control. A single-frequency Phoenix GPS receiver will be used , it has heritage from the missions PRISMA and PROBA-2.

Figure 2: Artist's rendition of the deployed Eu:CROPIS minisatellite. The deployed configuration has a width of 2.88 m. An S-band antenna is seen in the center of the top plate (image credit: DLR)
Figure 2: Artist's rendition of the deployed Eu:CROPIS minisatellite. The deployed configuration has a width of 2.88 m. An S-band antenna is seen in the center of the top plate (image credit: DLR)

EPS (Electrical Power Subsystem)

A Li-ion battery and four solar panels provide bus power during sunlight and eclipse operations. The solar arrays are aligned with the satellite z-axis providing 520 W of power on average per orbit.

The satellite is spinning about the principal axis, which is pointed to the sun and will be nearly identical with the spacecraft z-axis. The cylinder body has a diameter of 1.0 m and a length of 1.13 m. The spacecraft mass is about 250 kg.

The on-board software uses the RTEMS (Real-Time Executive for Multiprocessor System) operating system and is composed of the C&DH (Command and Data-Handling) software, the attitude and orbit control software and the on-board navigation software. The C&DH software was newly developed at the Institute of Space Systems, the other software components have heritage from the DLR TET-1 mission.

RF Communications

Two S-band antennae ensure stable communication with the ground. One antenna is placed in the center of the top plate; the other one in the center of the bottom plate.

FCP (Flight Control Procedures)

Mission operations for Eu:CROPIS are based on FCP that will be validated on the Flight Model (FM) or partially on the Engineering Model (EM). A basic set of flight control procedures for the satellite bus are defined by the spacecraft manufacturer during the EM and FM integration process. For this purpose, the software ProToS (Procedure Tool Suite) is used, which has been developed at GSOC as part of the GSOC-2020 Research and Development agenda. Its purpose is to support creation and execution of Satellite Test and Flight Control Procedures and to provide an automation framework for complex operational scenarios. ProToS has heritage from the EDRS-A mission control software. 6)

The execution of procedures requires a connection to the external interface service of the mission control system GECCOS (GSOC Enhanced Command- and Control System for Operating Spacecrafts). GECCOS, based on SCOS-2000 (Spacecraft Control & Operation System-2000) release 3.1 of ESA, is the new MCS (Mission Control System) of GSOC in 2014. 7)

The execution of procedures require a connection to the external interface service of the mission control system GECCOS at GSOC. After procedure execution and telemetry evaluation ProToS generates a comprehensive execution report - a helpful feature during AIT (Integration and Test). ProToS is therefore a valuable extension of the Central Checkout System, but it also helps to reduce the effort on the operations side, as procedures can be easily imported into the procedure database at GSOC via the generic MOIS (Manufacturing and Operations Information System) XML format.


Development Status

• On Wednesday 17 October 2018, the Eu:CROPIS minisatellite left its manufacturing site, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in Bremen. On board were 24 tomato seeds. The satellite – one meter in length and with a mass of 230 kg – made its way to the US VAFB (Vandenberg Air Force Base) in California via Frankfurt. The satellite is scheduled for launch into space on board a Space-X Falcon-9 rocket in November. 8)

- "We want to investigate how to create a breathable atmosphere and food for astronauts in space using their own waste," says Hartmut Müller, Project Manager for the satellite built at the DLR Institute of Space Systems. The aim is for astronauts to be self-sufficient during future space missions lasting several years. Until the launch, the tomato seeds will be in a semi-dormant state. Once in space, an automated system will provide them with water, fertiliser and light – "everything they need to grow," according to Müller. Rotation of the satellite will generate artificial gravity – first like the Moon and then that of Mars.

- Prior to departure, the satellite had to undergo a series of final tests. Right before loading, it was inspected by customs.

- The DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne is responsible for the scientific leadership of the mission, which also expects insights into terrestrial applications, such as greenhouses in high-rise buildings ('vertical farms').

Figure 3: Packing up Eu:CROPIS (image credit: DLR)
Figure 3: Packing up Eu:CROPIS (image credit: DLR)


The Eu:CROPIS minisatellite was launched on 3 December 2018 (18:34 GMT) on the SSO-A (Sun Synchronous Orbit-A) rideshare mission of the service provider Spaceflight Inc. (Seattle WA) . The launch vehicle was a Falcon-9 Block5 of SpaceX and the launch site was VAFB, CA, USA. 9) 10) 11)

SpaceX statement: On Monday, December 3rd at 10:34 a.m. PST (18:34 GMT), SpaceX successfully launched Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express to a low Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Carrying 64 payloads, this mission represented the largest single rideshare mission from a U.S.-based launch vehicle to date. A series of six deployments occurred approximately 13 to 43 minutes after liftoff, after which Spaceflight began to command its own deployment sequences. Spaceflight’s deployments are expected to occur over a period of six hours. 12)

This mission also served as the first time SpaceX launched the same booster a third time. Falcon 9’s first stage for the Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express mission previously supported the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 mission in May 2018 and the Merah Putih mission in August 2018. Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, which was stationed in the Pacific Ocean.


Sun-synchronous circular orbit with an altitude of 575 km, inclination of ~98º, LTDN (Local Time of Descending Node) of 10:30 hours.


List of Payloads on the Spaceflight SSO-A Rideshare Mission

The layout of the list follows the alphabetical order of missions as presented on the Wikipedia page ”2018 in spaceflight” — as well as with the help of Gunter Krebs's short descriptions at,, and for tge Suomi 100 satellite as presented on the Aalto university website:

• AISTechSat, a 6U CubeSat for Earth observation of AISTech (Access to Intelligent Space Technologies), Barcelona, Spain.

• Al Farabi-2, a CubeSat technology demonstration mission of the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, Kazakhstan.

• Astrocast, a 3U CubeSat technology demonstration mission of Astrocast, Switzerland, dedicated to the Internet of Things (IoT)

• Audacy Zero, a 3U CubeSat technology demonstration mission of Audacy, Mountain View, CA

• BeeSat-5 to -8 (Berlin Experimental and Educational Satellite) of TU Berlin, a picosatellite mission consisting of four 0.25 CubeSats.

• BlackHawk, a 6U CubeSat built as a technological demonstrator for ViaSat by Blue Canyon Technologies.

• BlackSky-2, a microsatellite (55 kg) of BlackSky Global which will provide 1 m resolution imagery with improved geolocation accuracy.

• BRIO, a 3U CubeSat of SpaceQuest Ltd. of Fairfax, VA to test a novel communications protocol that uses SDR (Software Defined Radio).

• Capella-1, a microsatellite (37 kg) of Capella Space, San Francisco, CA featuring a X-band SAR (Synthetic Aperture) payload.

• Centauri-2, a 3U CubeSat of Fleet Space Technologies, Adelaide, South Australia. Demonstration of IoT technologies.

• COPPER (Close Orbiting Propellant Plume and Elemental Recognition) CubeSat of Saint Luis University, Saint Louis, MO, USA.

• CSIM-FD (Compact Spectral Irradiance Monitor-Flight Demonstration), a 6U CubeSat of LASP (Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics) at the University of Boulder, CO, USA. The goal is to measure solar spectral irradiance to understand how solar variability impacts the Earth’s climate and to validate climate model sensitivity to spectrally varying solar forcing.

• Eaglet-1, the first 3U CubeSat of OHB Italia SpA for Earth Observation.

• Elysium Star-2, a 1U CubeSat of Elysium Space providing space burial services.

• ENOCH, a passive CubeSat built as an art project by conceptual artist Tavares Strachan under the auspices of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in collaboration with SpaceX.

• ESEO (European Student Earth Orbiter) sponsored by ESA, a microsatellite of ~40 kg with 6 instruments aboard.

• Eu:CROPIS (Euglena and Combined Regenerative Organic-Food Production in Space), a minisatellite (230 kg) of DLR, Germany. The objective is to study food production in space in support of future long-duration manned space missions (life sciences). The main payloads are two greenhouses, each maintained as a pressurized closed loop system, simulating the environmental conditions of the Moon or of Mars.

• eXCITe (eXperiment for Cellular Integration Technology), a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) mission to demonstrate the 'satlets' technology. Satlets are a new low-cost, modular satellite architecture that can scale almost infinitely. Satlets are small modules that incorporate multiple essential satellite functions and share data, power and thermal management capabilities. Satlets physically aggregate in different combinations that would provide capabilities to accomplish diverse missions.

• ExseedSat-1, a 1U CubeSat mission by the Indian company Exseed Space. The goal is to provide a multifunction UHF/VHF NBFM (Narrow Band Frequency Modulation) amateur communication satellite.

• FalconSat-6, a minisatellite (181 kg) of the USAFA (U.S. Air Force Academy) and sponsored by AFRL. FalconSat-6 hosts a suite of five payloads to address key AFSPC (Air Force Space Command) needs: SSA (Space Situational Awareness) and the need to mature pervasive technologies such as propulsion, solar arrays, and low power communications.

• Flock-3, three 3U CubeSats of Planet Labs to provide Earth observation.

• Fox-1C, a radio amateur and technology research 1U CubeSat developed by AMSAT and hosting several university developed payloads.

• Hawk, a formation-flying cluster of three microsatellites (13.4 kg each) of HawkEye 360, Herndon, VA, USA. The goal is to demonstrate high-precision RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) geolocation technology monitoring.

• Hiber-2 is 6U CubeSat pathfinder mission of Hiber Global, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, for Hiber Global's planned (IoT) communications CubeSat constellation.

• ICE-Cap (Integrated Communications Extension Capability), a 3U CubeSat of the US Navy. The objectives are to demonstrate a cross-link from LEO (Low Earth Orbit) to MUOS (Mobile User Objective System) WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) in GEO (Geosynchronous Orbit). The objective is to send to users on secure networks.

• ICEYE-X2, a X-band SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) microsatellite (<100 kg) of Iceye Ltd, a commercial satellite startup company of Espoo, Finland.

• IRVINE02, a 1U CubeSat educational mission by the Irvine Public School Foundation to allow students to acquire technical skills in tracking and communicating with the satellite in the first year, then maintaining continuity of the program as new students enter the program the following year.

• ITASAT-1 (Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica Satellite), a Brazilian 6U Cubesat (~8kg) built by the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA). A former rescoped microsatellite mission.

• JY1-Sat, a 1U CubeSat of Jordan developed by students of various universities. The satellite will carry a UHF/VHF amateur radio.

• K2SAT, is a South Korean 2U-CubeSat designed by the Republic of Korea Air Force Academy and.  K2SAT is a 3U CubeSat Mission. It will demonstrate satellite imaging and transfer, and to test a voice repeating capability.

• KazSTSAT (Kazakh Science and Technology Satellite), a microsatellite (~100 kg) of Ghalam LLP, Astana, Kazakhstan. Developed by SSTL on a SSTL-50 platform including an SSTL EarthMapper payload designed for global commercial wide-area imaging with a resolution of 17.5 m on a swath of 250 km.

• KNACKSAT (KMUTNB Academic Challenge of Knowledge SATellite) of Thailand, a 1U technology demonstration CubeSat, the first entirely Thai-built satellite, developed by students of King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok (KMUTNB). Use of an amateur radio for communication.

• Landmapper-BC (Corvus BC 4), a 6U CubeSat (11 kg) of Astro Digital (formerly Aquila Space), Santa Clara, CA, USA. The satellite features a broad coverage multispectral (Red, Green, NIR) imaging system with a resolution of 22 m.

• MinXSS-2 (Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer-2), a 3U CubeSat(4 kg) of LASP (Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics) at the University of Colorado at Boulder,CO, USA. The objective is to study the energy distribution of solar flare SXR (Soft X-ray) emissions and its impact on the Earth’s ITM (Ionosphere, Thermosphere, and Mesosphere) layers.MinXSS-2 is a copy of the MinXSS-1 but with some improvements. — MinXSS-1 was launched on 06 December 2015 onboard of Cygnus CRS-4 to the ISS, were it was deployed into orbit on 16 May 2016. It reentered Earth's atmosphere on 6 May 2017.

• MOVE II, (Munich Orbital Verification Experiment 2) is a 1U CubeSat built by students at the Technical University of München.  The MOVE II mission is funded by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) as an educational project, and the goal is to develop a satellite capable of supporting a scientific payload with challenging requirements.

• NEXTSat-1, a multi-purpose microsatellite (~100 kg) of Korea designed and developed at SaTReC (Satellite Technology Research Center) of KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology). The goal is to conduct scientific missions such as star formation and space storm measurements and also technology demonstration in space. Instruments: ISSS (Instrument for the Study of Space Storms) developed at KAIST to detect plasma densities and particle fluxes of 10 MeV energy range near the Earth. NISS (NIR Imaging Spectrometer for Star formation history), developed at KASI (Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute).

• Orbital Reflector, a 3U CubeSat project (4 kg) of the Nevada Museum of Art and artist Trevor Paylon. The Orbital Reflector is a 30 m sculpture constructed of a lightweight material similar to Mylar. On deployment, the sculpture self-inflates like a balloon. Sunlight reflects onto the sculpture making it visible from Earth with the naked eye — like a slowly moving artificial star as bright as a star in the Big Dipper.

• ORS-7 (Operationally Responsive Space 7), two 6U CubeSats (-7A and -7B) of the USCG (US Coast Guard) in cooperation with DHS (Department of Homeland Security), the ORS (Operationally Responsive Space Office) of DoD, and NOAA. The objective is to detect transmissions from EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons), which are carried on board vessels to broadcast their position if in distress.

• PW-Sat 2 (Politechnika Warszawska Satellite 2), a 2U CubeSat of the Institute of Radioelectronics at the Warsaw University of Technology, Warsaw, Poland. The objective is to demonstrate a deorbitation system - a drag parachute opened behind the satellite - which allows faster removal of satellites from their orbit after it completes its mission.

• RAAF-M1 (Royal Australian Air Force-M1), an Australian 3U CubeSat (~4 kg) designed and built by UNSW (University of New South Wales) for the Australian Defence Force Academy, Royal Australian Air Force. RAAF-M1 is a technology demonstration featuring an AIS receiver, and ADS-B receiver, an SDR (Software Defined Radio).

• RANGE-A and -B (Ranging And Nanosatellite Guidance Experiment), two 1.5 CubeSats of Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology), Atlanta, GA, USA, flying in a leader-follower formation with the goal of improving the relative and absolute positioning capabilities of nanosatellites.

• ROSE-1, a 6U CubeSat of Phase Four Inc., El Segundo, CA, USA. ROSE-1 is an experimental spacecraft designed to provide an orbital test-bed for the Phase Four RFT (Radio Frequency Thruster), the first plasma propulsion system to fly on a nanosatellite.

• SeaHawk, two 3U CubeSats of UNCW (University of North Carolina, Wilmington), NC. The goal is to measure the ocean color in project SOCON (Sustained Ocean Observation from Nanosatellites). They are considered prototypes for a larger constellation. The SOCON project is a collaboration between Clyde Space Ltd (spacecraft bus), the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Cloudland Instruments, and NASA/GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Center).

• See Me (Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements), a prototype microsatellite (~22 kg) built by Raytheon for DARPA to obtain on-demand satellite imagery in a timely and persistent manner for pre-mission planning.

• SIRION Pathfinder 2, or Helios Wire Pathfinder 2 is a 6U CubeSat built as a demonstrator for Sirion Global's S-band IoT (Internet of Things) and Helios Wire's communications constellation.

• SkySat-14 and -15. Planet of San Francisco has 13 SkySats in orbit. The commercial EO satellites were built by Terra Bella of Mountain View, CA, which Planet acquired from Google last year. At the time of the purchase, there were 7 SkySats in orbit. On 31 October 2017, Planet launched an additional six on a Minotaur-C rocket. The 100 kg SkySats are capable of sub-meter resolution – making them the most powerful in the constellation. Customers can request to have these high-resolution satellites target their locations of interest.

• SNUGLITE, a 2U CubeSat designed by the SNU (Seoul National University) for technology demonstrations and amateur radio communication.

• SNUSAT 2 (Seoul National University Satellite 2), is a South Korean 3U-CubeSat designed by the Seoul National University for early point of interest scanning for disaster monitoring using wide angle and high resolution cameras. Also testing in house developed star tracker and earth sensor.

• SpaceBEE, four picosatellites of Swarm Technologies (a US start-up), built to the 0.25U form factor to make up a 1U CubeSat.

• STPSat-5 is a science technology minisatellite of the US DoD STP (Space Test Program), managed by the SMC of the USAF. STPSat-5 will carry a total of five technological or scientific payloads to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) in order to further the DoD’s understanding of the space environment. The satellite was built by SNC (Sierra Nevada Corporation) on the modular SN-50 bus with a payload capacity of 50-100 kg and compatible with ESPA-class secondary launch adaptors.

• Suomi 100 satellite is Aalto University’s 3rd CubeSat in space. The 1U satellite has two payloads, a visible light camera and an own designed and built radio instrument. The science goal of the satellite is to study space weather phenomena near the Earth, especially auroras.

• THEA, a 3U CubeSat built by SpaceQuest, Ltd. of Fairfax, VA to demonstrate a spectrum survey payload developed by Aurora Insight, Washington DC. The objective is to qualify Aurora’s payload, consisting of a proprietary spectrometer and components, and demonstrate the generation of relevant measurements of the spectral environment (UHF, VHF, S-band). The results of the experiment will inform future development of advanced instrumentation by Aurora and component development by SpaceQuest.

• VESTA is a 3U CubeSat developed at SSTL in Guildford, UK. VESTA is a technology demonstration mission that will test a new two-way VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) payload for the exactEarth advanced maritime satellite constellation. Honeywell Aerospace is providing the payload. VESTA is a flagship project of the National Space Technology Program, funded by the UK Space Agency and managed by the Center for EO Instrumentation and Space Technology (CEOI-ST).

• VisionCube-1, a 2U CubeSat designed by the Korea Aerospace University (KAU) to perform research on Transient Luminous Events in the upper atmosphere. The image processing payload consists of a multi-anode photon multiplier tube(MaPMT), a camera, and a real-time image processing engine built by using SoC (System-on-Chip) FPGA technologies.

• WeissSat 1, an 1U CubeSat mission by the Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, to validate a Lab-on-a-Chip system on a nanosatellite.

• ZACube-2 (South African CubeSat-2), a 3U CubeSat of F'SATI (French South African Institute of Technology) at CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology), Cape Town, South Africa (in collaboration with SANSA and Stellenbosch University).The payloads include a medium resolution matrix imager and a number of communication subsystems. The prime objective of ZACUBE-2 is to demonstrate AIS (Automatic Identification System) message reception using its SDR-based payload. The launch of ZACube was planned for 2018 on an Indian PSLV rocket but has been moved to a Falcon-9 v1.2 vehicle from VAFB.

Spaceflight has contracted with 64 spacecraft from 34 different organizations for the mission to a Sun-Synchronous Low Earth Orbit. It includes 15 microsatellites and 49 CubeSats from both commercial and government entities, of which more than 25 are from international organizations from 17 countries, including United States, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Finland, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, UK, Germany, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Poland, Canada, Brazil, and India. 13)

Figure 4: This infographic released by Spaceflight illustrates the types of payloads booked on the SSO-A mission (image crdit: Spaceflight)
Figure 4: This infographic released by Spaceflight illustrates the types of payloads booked on the SSO-A mission (image crdit: Spaceflight)


Mission Status

• July 22, 2021: At 11:58 CEST, the command lines on the screen lit up green: 'COMPLETED_SUCCESS'. The software specialists at the German Space Operations Center (GSOC) had been working towards this satellite signal for months. On 22 July 2021, Space Operations at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) succeeded in commanding a satellite using the 'European Ground Segment – Common Core' (EGS-CC) software for the first time. EGS-CC is the future mission control system for European spaceflight. 14)

- DLR is active in a European network that is building a common software infrastructure with EGS-CC. Until now, several different systems have been used for space missions, such as for the construction, integration into a network, testing and operation of a satellite. The European spaceflight community wants to change that. The DLR team from Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich, has used EGS-CC to build a system to monitor and control spacecraft. Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board, followed the test live at the console in GSOC.

- "DLR Space Operations has proven that its concept for the EGS-CC command system works. I am very proud that our colleagues here have created a technological basis for core spaceflight applications. This enables technology transfer from DLR to industry and for the benefit of our society," said Felix Huber, Director of DLR's Space Operations and Astronaut Training Facility.

Figure 5: DLR Executive Board Chair Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla in the control room during the commanding test (image credit: DLR)
Figure 5: DLR Executive Board Chair Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla in the control room during the commanding test (image credit: DLR)

- The successful test is also a result of the close cooperation and coordination between the partners. In particular, GSOC worked closely with the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) and European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC).

Standardized Communication in Space and on the Ground

- For this first space test, GSOC operators used an overflight of the Eu:CROPIS satellite above the DLR ground station in Weilheim, approximately 40 km away from the control centre. A few minutes after contact was made, the antennas sent the satellite's telemetry data to the new system. At the control centre, this was the first important confirmation that EGS-CC had received and correctly interpreted all the incoming data. The next step was for the satellite to perform a connectivity test. The DLR engineers activated the 'Perform Connection Test' command with a mouse click and shortly afterwards the eagerly awaited 'COMPLETED_SUCCESS' response appeared in Oberpfaffenhofen.

- "This is a milestone for European spaceflight. The integration of operations and development has given the German Space Operations Center a technological advantage. As a result, we will continue to be well prepared to satisfy the requirements of future missions," explained Martin Wickler, Head of the Mission Technology department at DLR's Space Operations and Astronaut Training Facility.

- With the help of a standardized but customizable infrastructure, spaceflight stakeholders around the world will be able to exchange information seamlessly, make greater use of synergies and reduce costs. DLR Space Operations is currently planning to deploy the new command system for the operations of further satellites. The Columbus Control Centre is also expected to benefit from the new system and save approximately one million euros per year as a result of the changeover. The knowledge gained here will also flow back into the EGS-CC user community.

- The decisive advantage of EGS-CC is its interoperability. Developers, manufacturers, operators and space agencies will have a common software language for the first time. Systems based on EGS-CC will enable the use of new technologies and closer coordination between users.

• January 13, 2020: The experimentation phase on board the Eu:CROPIS satellite developed by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) came to an end on 31 December 2019. The compact satellite has been in an orbit around Earth that passes over the north and south poles for over one year. On board are four experiments, of which the DLR-developed RAdiation Measurement In Space (RAMIS) instrument, the NASA PowerCell experiment, and the SCalable On-BoaRd Computing Experiment (SCORE) computer, which was supplied by DLR, have yielded extensive datasets. Unfortunately, the eponymous Eu:CROPIS experiment (Euglena and Combined Regenerative Organic-Food Production in Space) could not be initiated due to a software problem. With this research satellite, DLR tested for the first time a particularly weight-saving compact satellite design with innovative lightweight structures for cost-effective missions. 15)

a) The Eu:CROPIS mission ended on 31 December 2019

b) Three of the four on-board experiments yielded extensive datasets

c) The first on-board computer developed by DLR functioned reliably in space

d) Compact satellite design demonstrated innovative lightweight construction technologies in space

e) Focus: Space, exploration, research under space conditions, technology for space systems.

Radiation Measured Sround the World

- The RAMIS radiation measuring device allowed data to be recorded almost all around the world. Two identical measurement devices for recording incident radiation were attached to the satellite's exterior and interior for this experiment, which was devised by the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne. These measured both changes in Earth's outer radiation belt, which is mainly populated by electrons, and the variation of galactic cosmic rays as a function of orbital position and the shielding provided by Earth's magnetic field. DLR radiation researcher Thomas Berger, who heads the team working on RAMIS, is very satisfied with the measurements: "We have acquired a lot of data from the satellite's interior and exterior with little radiation shielding, allowing us to make a perfect comparison. These data, which have now been available for a year, provides us with a dataset that is almost unique for this orbit and will give us many scientific insights." Among other aspects, the recorded data form the basis for determining the location and intensity of the outer radiation belt, which will primarily be used for verifying radiation belt models.

Bacteria Under the Gravitational Conditions Found on the Moon and Mars

- The Eu:CROPIS mission has also delivered valuable results for DLR's partner, the US space agency NASA. In the PowerCell experiment, bacteria were able to create biological matter that could also be produced during a stay on the Moon or Mars. Eu:CROPIS generated the gravitational conditions of the Moon and Mars by rotating at different speeds. The Moon’s gravity is 0.16 times that of Earth, while gravity on Mars is 0.38 times Earth’s gravitational attraction.

DLR On-Board Computer and Lightweight Construction in Space

- SCORE is the first on-board computer to be developed by DLR. SCORE and the principle of the scalable COBC (Compact On-Board Computer) were tested in space for the first time during the Eu:CROPIS mission. The on-board computer carried out the image processing for the external cameras located beneath the solar arrays. These checked whether the panels had deployed correctly. The computer is still working reliably under the special conditions found in space. A modular, scalable computer system has the advantage that it can be adapted to the specific requirements of future missions more easily, making the development process more cost-effective and less time-consuming. "In addition to the experiments, we have also built a particularly lightweight, compact satellite which allowed the use of many innovative examples of technologies, such as 3D-printed components and a carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) pressure tank for the very first time," says Project Leader Olaf Eßmann of the DLR Institute of Space Systems.

Searching for Greenhouse Solutions

- In January 2019, a regular software update resulted in problems communicating with the two greenhouses inside the satellite, which were transitioned into safe mode by the update. Following extensive error analysis and tests on an experimental set-up on Earth, the mission team of engineers and scientists made several attempts during 2019 to resume communications with the experiment. "For example, we rebooted various modules on the satellite, but unfortunately were unable to fix the communications issues," explains Eßmann. The greenhouse part of the Eu:CROPIS mission marked a first step towards testing how biological life support systems could be used as technology for supplying food on long-term missions. Two greenhouses hosting a symbiotic community of bacteria, single-celled algae (Euglena) and synthetic urine as a fertilizer were intended to grow tomatoes under the gravitational conditions found on the Moon and Mars. An attempt at activating the experiment revealed that the greenhouses and their technologies are still functional, but that irrigation cannot be initiated. This means that the tomato seeds and the Euglena, which are currently dormant, cannot be activated. “This is regrettable," says the Principal Investigator of the experiment, biologist Jens Hauslage of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine. "Nonetheless, we can say that the principle works because the ground-based model is functional, and through our work on Eu:CROPIS we have developed a long-term testbed for biological research in space."

- Despite the fact that the eponymous experiment could not be activated, scientists from all the institutes involved have learned fundamental lessons for future DLR compact satellites and will use this experience in the design of subsequent missions. Other flight options are currently being explored to implement the biological part of the experiment under lunar conditions. The Eu:CROPIS mission has thus contributed towards generating new insights and given engineers and biologists experience of innovations that can be harnessed in future.

Flexible Construction in Different Sizes

- The Eu:CROPIS compact satellite was constructed under the leadership of the DLR Institute of Space Systems in Bremen. The DLR Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems in Braunschweig developed the spacecraft structure and the pressure tank. Power is supplied via four solar panels, each with an area of one square meter. DLR scientists were able to draw upon their experience of developing standard components for satellites during the preparations for the mission. Depending on the payload, they are able to design and construct satellites of different sizes quickly, cost-effectively and flexibly. This component-oriented design is a unique feature that can be used to support many different research missions. Eu:CROPIS lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on 3 December 2018 on board a Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Starting from its relatively low orbit 600 km above Earth, the satellite will gradually lose altitude over the next two decades, and eventually burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

• May 2019: First experiences in the LEOP and commissioning phases of the Eu:CROPIS mission show that the implemented FDIR (Fault Detection, Isolation, and Recovery) mechanism works as expected. The analyses for the reasoning of increasing FDIR counters on the flight model in space is supported by the diagnostic reporting service itself and the reporting actions triggered by FDIR events, because we get an insight of all internal ACS data with up to an 10 Hz resolution by the diagnostic reporting service. All applied services for FDIR handling can be reused as configured in future missions. 16)

• April 10, 2019: The Eu:CROPIS satellite of DLR is now rotating in space at a rate of 17.5 revolutions per minute, generating a gravitational force in its interior similar to that found on the Moon. After its launch on 3 December 2018, DLR engineers successfully tested and commanded the spacecraft. The experiments were then put into operation on 5 December. As the upload of updated software for the two greenhouses inside the spacecraft caused delays in January 2019, the engineers and scientists replanned the sequence of additional experiments. After the experiments with the SCORE (SCalable On-BoaRd Computing Experiment) and the RAMIS (RAdiation Measurement In Space) devices, the third experiment, PowerCell, a mission contribution from NASA, was activated under lunar gravity conditions. Software for the further activation of the greenhouses will be uploaded to the spacecraft as soon as this experiment has been completed. 17)

Figure 6: Deployed solar panels on Eu:CROPIS (image credit: DLR)
Figure 6: Deployed solar panels on Eu:CROPIS (image credit: DLR)

a) Lunar gravity conditions are replicating through the satellite’s rotation

b) The PowerCell experiment with two species of bacteria has begun and will run until the summer

c) Subsequently, the two greenhouses, in which tomato seeds will germinate under lunar and Martian gravity conditions, will be activated

d) Focus: Mission, spaceflight, exploration.

Figure 7: EU:CROPIS animation (video credit: DLR)

Artificial Gravity by Rotation

- "Until now, the spacecraft has been operating smoothly," explains Project Manager Hartmut Müller from the DLR Institute of Space Systems. After the successful launch, the solar panels of the spacecraft deployed as planned. An image showing the unfolded panels was sent to Earth by SCORE, the first on-board computer developed at DLR. Once the spacecraft reached its target altitude of 600 kilometers, the DLR engineers set it rotating to simulate lunar gravity, which is 0.16 times Earth gravity. "The NASA experiment was started once this was achieved." For the experiment, which is installed on the exterior of the satellite, two species of bacteria are now being brought out of hibernation in space. Later in the course of the experiment, the bacteria will produce biological substances that could also be produced during a mission on the Moon or Mars. The PowerCell experiments are scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2019.

Figure 8: View inside one of the Eu:CROPIS greenhouses (image credit: DLR)
Figure 8: View inside one of the Eu:CROPIS greenhouses (image credit: DLR)

Technology for Long-Term Missions

- The two greenhouses in which tomato seeds are to germinate under lunar and Martian conditions will then be activated. The red fruits will demonstrate that the closed life-support system, which has already been successfully tested on Earth, also functions under reduced gravity. Carbonate and synthetic urine – these substances simulate the breathing of the astronauts and the waste they produce – are converted into nutrients for the plants in the C.R.O.P. biofilter, in which bacteria live in lava rock. The unicellular algae Euglena gracilis, contributed by the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU), support the system in this process. The mission is a first step in testing how biological life support systems can be used as a technology for food supply on long-term missions. For the first time, seeds will have been germinated and plant growth observed at such a great distance from Earth.

Warmed and Illuminated During Hibernation

- "In our laboratories here on Earth, we are currently testing how to upload the optimized software again and put the first greenhouse into operation," says Jens Hauslage, Principal Investigator for the mission at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine. During the previous scheduled upload, the experimental system inside the spacecraft transitioned to safe mode. "The greenhouses are very complex and sensitive systems – even damage caused by unusually high radiation in space cannot be completely ruled out," explains the researcher. "If the experiment were located in our laboratory on Earth, it would of course be easier to understand what triggered this event. For the tomato seeds, the bacteria in the bio filter and the Euglena, the altered sequence of experiments means an additional break under comfortable conditions. The pressure container, in which the greenhouses and their passengers are located, is heated to around 17 degrees Celsius and the Euglena, which are in hibernation in damp cotton wool, are illuminated around the clock. "In this state, the biological components of the Eu:CROPIS experiment can remain in space without sustaining damage for at least nine months while waiting for it to begin."

'Breathing' of the Radiation Belts

- Radiation researcher Thomas Berger and his team at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine have been measuring radiation since 5 December 2018. For the RAMIS experiment, two identical devices are installed on the spacecraft – one on the exterior and one in the interior – to measure radiation. "The Eu:CROPIS mission is very exciting for us because the spacecraft flies over the poles and thus covers almost the entire surface of Earth during the course of its orbit," explains the investigator. "This enables us to determine the variation of galactic cosmic rays as a function of orbital position and the shielding provided by Earth’s magnetic field."

- At the same time, DLR radiation researchers can study Earth’s radiation belts. Eu:CROPIS flies through the outer radiation belts, which are mainly occupied by low-energy electrons, and through the inner radiation belts (the South Atlantic anomaly), which are mainly populated with protons. The precise measurement of the outer radiation belts in particular is not possible on the International Space Station (ISS), as its orbit does not reach higher latitudes. The collected data are the basis for determining the location and intensity of the outer radiation belts, which will primarily be used to verify models of the radiation belts. "First results from the RAMIS detector on the exterior of the spacecraft clearly show the 'breathing' of the outer radiation belts – that is, the daily variation of the particle fluxes of the electrons within the belts – as well as the size of the South Atlantic Anomaly."

- The use of radiation sensors inside the spacecraft is particularly important when the greenhouses are in operation. Measurements can determine how effectively the spacecraft’s shielding protects its interior against radiation, and the scientists responsible for the closed life-support system can receive information about the radiation dose to which the tomatoes have been exposed during their mission.

• December 3, 2018: The EU:CROPIS minisatellite was successfully placed into its orbit. First radio contact with the satellite was made at GSOC (German Space Operation Center) in Oberpfaffenhofen at about one hour and 15 minutes after the launch. In the next two weeks, GSOC will commission the satellite in space and test all functions (Ref. 9).


Experiment Complement

Once Eu:CROPIS and its scientific payload have reached space, the first stage in the mission will be to activate the greenhouse (Payload 1) that will simulate a lunar environment. During this phase, the satellite will be controlled at DLR/GSOC, while the greenhouse will receive its commands from the DLR/MUSC (Microgravity User Support Center) in Cologne. The trickle filter, with its ravenous inhabitants, will be operated by the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, and the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität of Erlangen-Nürnberg will contribute the euglena.

The second greenhouse(Payload 2) with Martian gravity will be activated six months later: by then, the microorganisms, tomato seeds and euglena will have been exposed to cosmic radiation for six months – the equivalent to a flight to Mars. The DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine will measure the radiation exposure inside and outside the satellite throughout the entire mission.


Payload 1 - Eu:CROPIS

The Payload 1 contains a filter column, which is filled with small lava rocks, the CROP (Combined Regenerative Organic-food Production) filter. The function of the CROP filter is the conversion of ammonia from synthetic urine into nitrate by means of different bacteria living on and in the lava rocks. The filter has a volume of about 600 mL. Driven by pumps, the water circulates through the Payload 1 and the filter column. From time to time small amounts of synthetic urine are injected into the system by means of a small pump. The liquid is then transferred into a water storage tank, which contains the Euglena. Ammonia formed by oxidation and bacterial degradation is absorbed by the Euglena and thus a detoxification is achieved. The illumination of the plants is performed by three LED-arrays. Each LED unit contains also two cameras to take images of the plants from the top. The air in the greenhouse is vented through a chamber with a heat exchanger, which is cooled by direct contact to the base plate of the payload compartment. Condensed water is passively driven back into the water tank.

During the mission, tomato seeds will germinate and produce small cosmic tomatoes under the watchful eye of 16 cameras. Key helpers that enable this growth will also be transported into space: first, an entire colony of microorganisms inhabiting a trickle filter will convert synthetic urine into easily digestible fertilizers for the tomatoes. Second, the single-cell organism Euglena will also be on board to protect the hermetic system from excessive ammonia and to deliver oxygen. LED (Light-Emitting Diode) light will be used to provide the day/night rhythm that the Euglena and tomato seed require. A pressure tank will replicate the Earth's atmosphere.

"Ultimately, we are simulating and testing greenhouses that could be assembled inside a lunar or Martian habitat to provide the crew with a local source of fresh food. The system would do this by managing the controlled conversion of waste into fertilizer," says DLR biologist Jens Hauslage, head of the scientific part of the mission. In a lunar habitat, for instance, the Payload 1 (greenhouse) would be located in the astronauts' 'home' in a simulated Earth atmosphere. Urine would be one of the waste products the astronauts would produce in abundance. Here, the plants would have to adapt to reduced gravity conditions – the gravitational pull on the Moon is approximately one sixth of what it is on Earth, and on Mars it is around one third.

Turning waste into fertilizer – under controlled conditions: "A compost heap used for recycling purposes would not be controllable on a space station or in a habitat, which is why we use our trickle filter CROP. It fulfils the same function as normal soil, but is controllable." This is why the lava stones fitted in the trickle filter will initially be 'infected' with dried soil before Eu:CROPIS is sent off on its journey. This inoculation will allow a variety of organisms to settle in the porous, expansive surface of the lava stone, which they will use as a habitat. Once it reaches space, synthetic urine mixed with water will be trickled on the habitat every two to three days, triggering a true competition for food between these microorganisms. Here, nitrite is used to convert the harmful ammonia into nitrate, which is then added to the tomato seeds as fertilizer.


Payload 2 - PowerCell Payload

DLR (German Aerospace Center) invited NASA/ARC (Ames Research Center), Moffett Field, CA, to participate in their Euglena & Combined Regenerative Organic-food Production In Space (Eu:CROPIS) mission. The PowerCell Project is managed by Ames Research Center and leverages experience gained from prior flight experiments aboard multiple small- satellite space biology missions, the Space Shuttle, and the ISS (International Space Station). 18) 19) 20)


To derive the greatest benefit from long- term human space exploration, we must learn to utilize resources found ‘on site’ (or in situ) to reduce or eliminate reliance on resupply missions from Earth. On Earth, we rely on “primary producer” organisms, both plants and microbes, to transform basic resources like sunlight, water, and atmospheric gases (carbon dioxide, nitrogen) to provide the foods, or basic energy bundles, for “consumer” organisms (like us). Cyanobacteria and algae are two types of microbial primary producers capable of transforming solar energy, carbon dioxide, and water into carbohydrates, such as sugars, through the process of photosynthesis.

Using the tools of genetic engineering, synthetic biology will let us design specific PowerCell mini-ecologies that leverage the capabilities of selected microbes to perform useful tasks even as they cooperate with one another. Each PowerCell ecology will be customized for performance in a unique setting, taking advantage of in situ materials and energy sources to generate, on-demand, useful products that satisfy specific needs of long-term human presence away from Earth.

Using the tools of genetic engineering, synthetic biology will let us design specific PowerCell mini-ecologies that leverage the capabilities of selected microbes to perform useful tasks even as they cooperate with one another. Each PowerCell ecology will be customized for performance in a unique setting, taking advantage of in situ materials and energy sources to generate, on-demand, useful products that satisfy specific needs of long-term human presence away from Earth.

Some Background on the Original PowerCell Development (Ref. 19)

The PowerCell experiment began with a concept developed by the Brown-Stanford 2011 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team: What if we could co-culture photosynthetic microbes to produce nutrients to feed other cells naturally productive or bioengineered for specific tasks such as chemical, material or food production for use off planet? Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic (converting CO2 to sugars) and many are diazotrophic (converting atmospheric N2 into biologically usable forms of nitrogen).

However, they are difficult to engineer. The solution was to make a cyanobacterial strain excel at producing and secreting extra photosynthate, allowing it to feed a second organism that is more easily modified to produce a range of products for use in space or on non-terrestrial bodies. For this purpose, Anabaena spp. 7120 was engineered to continuously secrete sucrose into its environment, resulting in the development of the Anabaena PCS1, or “PowerCell”, strain during the course of the summer 2011 session of iGEM. For a flight production organism, Bacillus subtilis 168 and similar strains are ideal candidates, possessing flight heritage, exceptional hardiness, and a well-cataloged history of genetic modification.

The 2013 Stanford-Brown iGEM team prototyped a protein-based sucrose sensor for B. subtilis that indicated that PowerCell worked by producing a fluorescent protein when B. subtilis metabolized sucrose. From the iGEM “proof-of-principles” we developed a full-mission concept and began lab tests for payload development. Presented here is a description of the lab-based developmental work as we prepare for flight.

PowerCell Payload on the EU:CROPIS Mission

This platform will be ideal to test another question raised in the original iGEM concept: “Will there be a significant change to synthetic biology operations due to gravity?” If we are to use synthetic biology in space, we must understand how variable gravitational forces affect the insertion of new genes through transformation and their subsequent function. The satellite will establish artificial gravity by rotating about its axis, providing payloads onboard with reduced gravity that includes the lunar-to-martian range. The PowerCell payload on the Eu:CROPIS mission will investigate how different artificial gravity levels affect bacterial cell growth, genetic transformation, and exogenous protein production. In this manner the PowerCell mission will take the first steps in transitioning lab-based synthetic biology into a space exploration tool at-destination while demonstrating the practicality of its hardware for smallsat applications.


PowerCell Spaceflight Payload

In its first flight, the PowerCell Payload will investigate the performance of month microbial mini-ecologies containing both photosynthetic microbes and consumer organisms. Photosynthetic cyanobacteria will produce the carbohydrate sucrose (table sugar), which will feed Bacillus subtilis, a robust bacterium commonly found in soil and the gut.

As its mini-ecologies are exposed to several levels of artificially generated gravity, the PowerCell concept will be evaluated for compatibility with non-terrestrial environments. A rotating spacecraft will provide gravity similar to the moon for six months, and Mars for an additional six months. The results will be compared to a series of identical experiments on Earth.

In each gravity regime a payload fluidic system will deliver nutrients to 48 microwells integrated into a microfluidic carrier or “card”. Each microwell houses a PowerCell mini-ecology in dried form suitable for many months of stasis. The temperature is stabilized as the dried organisms hydrate and 4 miniature LEDs provide white light to initiate photosynthesis. Periodically, a sequence of optical measurements is made by the other 3 LEDs—violet, cyan, and red—plus a dedicated photodetector to monitor the growth and composition of each well’s ecosystem.

Trends and changes in the data will tell us how well the primary producer—the cyanobacterium Anabaena—generates sucrose to support the growth of B.subtilis—the consumer—at the current gravity level. In addition to producing sucrose through photosynthesis, Anabaena can “fix” dissolved nitrogen gas to generate plant-fertilizing nitrogen compounds, a key trait of this particular PowerCell ecology.

A second objective of the PowerCell Payload is to conduct synthetic biology remotely in outer space. The basic technique for introducing genetic material into a living cell, “transformation”, involves the transfer across a cell’s encasing membrane of molecules carrying genetic information. The PowerCell Payload will examine if and how reduced gravity levels impact transformation processes.


The PowerCell hardware is an improved version of hardware flown on PharmaSat, a previous biological payload designed and built by NASA/ARC. The PharmaSat mission, launched May 19, 2009 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, was a successful 96 hour test of the effect of antifungals on yeast growth in microgravity.

The PowerCell hardware consists of two hermetically sealed enclosures (each ~21 x 29 x 8 cm and 4.3 kg) as depicted by the solid model in Figure 9, which will be integrated onto the compact satellite. Each enclosure contains two separate and identical payload modules with a 48-segment 3-color optical density or absorbance measurement system, grow light system, microfluidic system for nutrient delivery and waste flushing, plus thermal control and internal environmental sensing including temperature, pressure, humidity, and acceleration. The fluidic card design allows for multiple experimental conditions at each gravity regime in each of the four rows of the card's 4 x12 array of experiment wells through independent fluid delivery. Each of the twelve wells within each row could in principle be loaded with a different sample, although the scientific requirements for replication translate into two to three experimental parameters per row. The optics system measures growth via LED light absorbance at several wavelengths and allows for photosynthetic growth.

Figure 9: PowerCell enclosure hardware (image credit: NASA/ARC)
Figure 9: PowerCell enclosure hardware (image credit: NASA/ARC)

Fluidic Card

Each payload module has a self-contained fluidics system consisting of a reagent container assembly, a valve manifold for pumping fluids, the experiment card that receives the fluids, and a waste manifold/bag. The payload experiments are carried out within the experiment card. Each row is served by a separate fluid delivery line, allowing for four different fluidic protocols to be carried out within a single module. The wells are self-contained experimental samples, with 0.20 µm filters on the inlet and outlet to sterilize fluids and isolate organisms. The valve manifold uses four spring-and-solenoid valves for receiving reagents, and five magnetically latched solenoid valves for the outlets. The five outlets translate to each of the four rows of the experiment card plus an outlet to the waste manifold. The card is composed of sandwiched layers of poly(methylmethacrylate) (“acrylic”) for the well sides with a clear gas-permeable 50 µm polystyrene capping layer to allow gas exchange. Fluidic cards were produced by ALine Inc (Rancho Dominguez, CA).

Optical Measurement System

The PowerCell payload measures OD (Optical Density) of the microfluidics wells at 3 wavelengths using a LED-based optical system. After rehydration with growth media, the B. subtilis grow within the sample wells and experiment progress is assessed by OD. As depicted in Figure 10, each well is aligned with its own AMS-TAOS light-to-frequency detector and set of three measurement LEDs with wavelength peaks at 430, 515 and 636 nm. The LEDs shine light through the well path and TAOS detectors measure the amount of transmitted light. Light is scattered (blocked) by cells (depicted by green and blue ovals) and the difference in transmittance over time used to measure growth. The 636 nm LEDs are useful for measuring cell growth, while comparison of 636 nm LED absorbance to the 515 nm and 430 nm LED absorbance can be used for measuring colorimetric assays. Although they are not part of our current experiment plan, the included broad-spectrum growth LEDs can also be used to facilitate the growth of cyanobacteria or other small photosynthetic organisms.

Figure 10: Individual well cross section (image credit: NASA/ARC)
Figure 10: Individual well cross section (image credit: NASA/ARC)


The PowerCell payload electronics are based on those of PharmaSat. Numerous improvements have been made to the design, and the newer, more miniaturized electronics used in the PowerCell payload allow for greater capability with a lower part count and smaller size. The electronics consist of a single Master printed circuit board (PCB) that interfaces to DLR’s compact satellite bus and regulates power and communication, plus LED, Detector, and Valve Manifold PCBs for each experiment. To facilitate reuse on future missions, experiment electronics were designed to be compatible with a standard 2U CubeSat payload form factor supported by a 1U bus, or to interface with a master power/communications unit for use in a larger satellite as in the case of PowerCell’s flight.


The PowerCell system software was designed de novo with several advanced features built into the software architecture to allow significant configurability, fault tolerance, and the re-use of code for future biological payload systems. Rather than implementing a hard-coded experiment sequence in the software, a flexible onboard experiment “script” system was incorporated to allow arbitrary experiment sequences to be uploaded from the ground and then executed onboard. A complementary ground tool was developed for the generation of these experiment scripts. One of the advantages of this method is that as the desired experiment sequence was modified during the course of testing, the changes were isolated to the script and not the actual code – this dramatically reduced the amount of software modification during the test phase of the mission. There is also nothing that precludes the upload of a new experiment script during on-orbit operations in the event that a last-minute change is needed or desired.

Because the PowerCell electronics system largely consists of off-the-shelf components which are not radiation hardened, significant effort was made to mitigate single-event upsets in the software. Data redundancy, a multiple voting scheme, and memory scrubbing were some of the techniques used for this purpose. Other implemented features such as an onboard scheduler, bootloader, performance reporter, and a suite of complementary ground/operations software tools helped to increase the robustness of the system.

Payload Science Experiment Overview

Organism selection

Two microbes were considered for launch aboard PowerCell: the cyanobacterium Anabaena spp. 7120-PCS1 “PowerCell” and the common soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis 168. The ability to withstand long periods of dry storage drove organism selection, as launch constraints require the organisms to survive dark, dry, room-temperature storage for up to 2.5 years without careful temperature regulation prior to rehydration. Initial work focused on different methods of room-temperature stasis for these organisms. Bacillus subtilis has maintained 45% survival after one year of our simulated conditions. The Anabaena spp. 7120-PCS1 is the original concept organism genetically engineered by the 2011 Brown-Stanford iGEM team. Anabaena spp. 7120-PCS1 was dubbed “PowerCell” for the genetic modification that made it leak sucrose into its environment. Unfortunately, PCS1 is not naturally capable of forming the thick-walled dormant akinetes as other members of the genus do. Cells rarely survived longer than two weeks under the environmental constraints of the PowerCell payload. Because the requirement for long-term stasis was not being met, we were unable to fly living Anabaena spp. 7120-PCS1 on Eu:CROPIS.

Other organisms were considered for potential experiments, including Escherichia coli K12 as a production organism because of its widespread use in synthetic biology, and Anabaena cylindrica as a PowerCell as it does form akinetes. However, neither reliably survived beyond one month of storage during stasis testing, eliminating them from the final flight plans.

Cell Growth

Although numerous experiments have investigated the effects of microgravity on organism growth, there are no experiments to date on growth along a gravitational gradient below 1 RCF (Relative Centrifugal Force) as we intend to conduct. We will observe cell growth at 4 gravity regimes: 1.0 (on the ground), 0.52, 0.22, and 0.014 x RCF. These growth curves, which should provide information on low-gravity growth, will be conducted with B. subtilis strains 168 and 1A976 using a rich culture medium commonly used in lab experiments, Lysogeny Broth (LB), and Anabaena extract as growth medium serving the role of PowerCell.

Genetic Transformation

As synthetic biology operations rely on our ability to insert new genetic circuits and systems into production organisms, we need to assess the behavior of genetic transformation in destination gravity regimes for the use and maintenance of genetically engineered organisms during missions. Normally lab-based protocols would use electroporation, a method where an electric field is applied to cells to temporarily increase membrane permeability, or heat shock. Neither approach is feasible during the Eu:CROPIS mission. The transformation of chemically-competent cells requires multiple fast freeze-thaw steps and relies on fragile cells. With this in mind, we sought a simple method of transforming hardy cells within a standard production organism. For this we evaluated two isothermal one-step transformation methods for use in B. subtilis and E. coli. B. subtilis is naturally competent and adjustment of the procedure developed by Zhang and Zhang with B. subtilis 1A976 led to a simple one-step process of transformation. For E. coli, polyethylene-glycol (PEG)-based transformation methods proved capable of transforming cells by mixing the cells and DNA with growth medium containing 10% w/v PEG. While E. coli was not ultimately selected due to its poor performance during our stasis experiments, this result led to viable methods for future missions with similar limitations.

Protein Production

Since gene activation is known to change over time in space, a concern for synthetic biology is whether or not the activity of inserted gene(s) will also shift. By introducing an exogenous protein, β-glucuronidase, and two native promoters of characterized gene transcription strength, we will understand if the gene activation shift caused by lowered gravity significantly affects our ability to use unicellular organisms as production organisms as predicted by terrestrial lab-based experiments. We will examine the ability of B. subtilis to produce β-glucuronidase by growing cells in the presence of the X-gluc colorimetric assay. The X-gluc assay functions when β-glucuronidase cleaves X-gluc ((5-bromo-4-chloro-3-indolyl-beta-D-glucuronic acid, cyclohexylammonium salt), forming a blue precipitate that our LED system can measure. We will compare the β-glucuronidase expression by the pVeg promoter – a highly expressed constitutive promoter – and the pLiaG promoter – a constitutive promoter repressed by cell stress.

Figure 11: Schematic view of the PowerCell concept (image credit: NASA/ARC)
Figure 11: Schematic view of the PowerCell concept (image credit: NASA/ARC)

In summary, the PowerCell Payload hardware has the potential to be the starting point for an easy-to-use automated experimental system in satellite and other payloads. The microfluidic design allows for the sterile and independent addition of reagents, while the software’s drag-and-drop scripting system allows for researchers with no programming experience to create automated experiments. The optical system has shown sensitivity comparable to benchtop spectrometers and its LED wavelengths can be selected to accommodate different experimental conditions.

The PowerCell payload will address simple but important questions for the future of synthetic biology in space. By evaluating the role (variable) gravity plays in microbe viability and growth, it will inform us of the scope of applicable environments for genetically engineered bacteria to be used as an enabling technology. Understanding the subtle impact of gravity on the efficiency of characterized genetic parts like promoters can provide an approximation of how more complex genetic systems developed on Earth will respond to the stresses of new celestial bodies. Even confirming that genetic competency occurs to a degree similar to terrestrial operations allows better prediction of how genetic engineering operations might function in mission environments and be used as a dynamic tool for future development in non-terrestrial environments.

Synthetic biology has already shown enormous potential on Earth to create new medical technologies, materials, and fuels. The renewable nature of synthetic biology and life’s own capacity for self-replication and resource utilization indicates great potential for its use in human space exploration. By translating these technologies to use in space, we are making the first steps to drastically reduce the cost and risk of manned space missions, especially on long-term operations. The first steps in testing its use are to re-create the conditions it might face in a mission environment and here we focus on the reduced gravitational force, bringing us closer to implementing synthetic biology as an enabling technology for space exploration.


Payload 3 - RAMIS (Radiation Measurements In Space)

The DLR experiment RAMIS will use a radiation detector to collect data on long-term exposure to cosmic radiation over the course of the space flight. The radiation field in space presents a limiting factor for the long-term deployment of astronauts and every other biological system – whether it is plants, animals, or microorganisms. This is why DLR radiation biologists will measure the radiation field on the outer shell and inside the satellite. The data will be used as a basis for further development of radiation field models, also to register the radiation dose to which the symbiotic community will be exposed during its flight on board Eu:CROPIS.

The goal of the RAMIS experiment is to measure cosmic radiation with energy deposition ranging from minimal ionizing protons up to relativistic iron nuclei. The radiation detector principle uses two silicon detectors, each with an active area of 0.5 cm2 and 300 µm thickness that are arranged in a telescope configuration.

RAMIS instrument: 21)

- Size: 140 x 140 x 35 mm3

- Mass: 540 g

- Power consumption: 3 W – 4 W (depending on input voltage)

- Power supply: 12 V (M1), 28 V (M2)

- Internal data storage: 2

- Data rate: 10 MB / day

- TM/TC interface: RS-485.


Figure 12: Photo of the radiation detector RAMIS (image credit: DLR)
Figure 12: Photo of the radiation detector RAMIS (image credit: DLR)


Payload 4 - SCORE (SCalable On-boaRd Computing Experiment)

The SCalable On-BoaRd Computing Experiment (SCORE) is a technology demonstrator payload for next generation on-board computing in hardware and software and has been developed by the DLR Institute of Space Systems. It is complemented by a set of three cameras that are commanded via SCORE.

The SCORE computer hardware is also based on the GR712RC processor. 

“The GR712RC processor provides a dependable base for SCORE and allowed us to reuse parts of the  software from our main on-board computer. So far, SCORE is successfully collecting data on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) memory in-orbit performance and has supported the Eu:CROPIS mission by collecting images from 3 exterior cameras”, said Carl Treudler, SCORE project manager, DLR. (Ref. 22)


Ground Segment

The ground systems in place for command generation, telemetry processing and visualization rely mostly on tools that have been used before in other mission. This approach minimizes the development costs and training effort for the operations team.

Operations Concept

The Eu:CROPIS payload has a number of autonomous functions like thermal control loops. Cyclic activities as lighting cycles and the taking of pictures and measurements are also initiated autonomously and do not require commands from ground on a daily basis. All other payload activities e.g. the start of an experiment or configuration changes are commanded on request from the PI (Principal Investigator). The request is made online through a web form, where the procedures and uplink modalities are specified. For all necessary functions flight control procedures are available at the control center. If the procedure requires parameter input from the PI or is to be executed time-tagged, the missing values are transmitted to GSOC through a defined format and interface, checked for consistency and merged with the procedure. This is an automatic process that takes a couple of minutes, but does not require manual interaction. Most procedures do not have configurable parameters though (so-called ready-procedures), and are already available in the MCS (Mission Control System). The spacecraft operator sends the procedure after approval has been given from the Flight Director in the web form. The PI is then able to remotely follow the execution process from the real-time telemetry shown in a tool provided by GSOC. The process of recommendation handling and the TM/TC interfaces between external users and GSOC are shown in Figure 13 (Ref. 3).

Figure 13: On request from the PI flight control procedures are sent to the satellite. Parameter values for procedures are transmitted via XML files, which are processed automatically (image credit: DLR)
Figure 13: On request from the PI flight control procedures are sent to the satellite. Parameter values for procedures are transmitted via XML files, which are processed automatically (image credit: DLR)

The close cooperation between the space segment and ground segment teams has contributed to a cost reduction of the mission operation and preparation. The experience and heritage within the ground segment could be considered in an early stage of the C&DH software design. The efficiency of data storage and retrieval for example will profit from the mission planning tools at GSOC in use for the FireBird mission.

Hence, Service 11 and Service 15 of the ECSS PUS (Packet Utilization Standard) were implemented in the C&DH software. A special case in this matter is the downlink of image files taken inside the greenhouse, and whose sizes exceed the maximum size of a single telemetry source packet. It was decided to transfer greenhouse images via PUS Service 13, the dedicated service for the transmission of large data. For this purpose minor enhancements had to be made in turn on the ground segment side to guarantee the maximum scientific return.

During the LEOP (Launch and Early Orbit Phase) the satellite will be controlled and monitored at GSOC. The LEOP ground station network guarantees a high number of contacts to the satellite, and allows for a quick response to on-board events and the transmission of critical procedures. It will consist of the following antenna sites:

- Weilheim (WHM) of DLR

- Svalbard (SGS) of KSAT

- St. Hubert (SHB) of CSA

- Saskatoon (SKT) of CSA

- O'Higgins (OHG) of DLR.

After separation from the launcher, the satellite will autonomously perform the initialization sequence. It will power the nominal side of hardware, i.e. the OBC (On-Board Computer) will start the on-board software and activate the AOCS system. The S-band transmitter will be switched on 30 minutes after separation because of a requirement from the launcher. The first step in the attitude control and acquisition sequence is to decrease the tip-off rates from the launcher. Following, the satellite z-axis is pointed perpendicular to the sun direction in order to allow for an illumination of the undeployed solar panels, which are still fixed around the curved area of the cylinder. A rotation around the z-axis is established at 1 rotation per minute (rpm), which is why this configuration is also referred to as “BBQ-attitude”. The four panels are illuminated one after another and a stable thermal condition is generated.

For routine operations on-board capabilities are employed to facilitate operations and to take care of back-ground tasks. These are time distribution, data collection and downlink, parameter monitoring, thermal and attitude control as well as FDIR (Fault Detection, Isolation and Recovery). Monitoring and control of the satellite including replay of recorded data will be conducted via the S-band uplink and downlink channels. The contacts between the control center and the satellite will primarily be used for the uplink of procedures to update the mission timeline, and for dumping of housekeeping and science data. Four ground station contacts per day will be scheduled in the routine phase to dump a total volume of 120 MB ±15% comprising of:

- 80 MB for Payload 1

- 10 MB for Payload 2

- 10 MB for Payload 3

- 10 MB for Payload 4

- 10 MB for S/C bus.

Figure 14: Exchange of data products in the routine phase. Science data and platform housekeeping telemetry are available on the GSOC SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol) server not later than 45 minutes after the contact. Additional products like the orbit determination are also provided (image credit: DLR/GSOC)
Figure 14: Exchange of data products in the routine phase. Science data and platform housekeeping telemetry are available on the GSOC SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol) server not later than 45 minutes after the contact. Additional products like the orbit determination are also provided (image credit: DLR/GSOC)


1) ”Eu:CROPIS – Greenhouses for the Moon and Mars,” DLR, May 24, 2016, URL:

2) ”Eu:CROPIS – Growing tomatoes in space,” DLR, April 24, 2014, URL:

3) Daniel Schulze, Gary Morfill, Benjamin Klein, Thorsten Beck, Claudia Philpot, ”Food Production in Space –Operating a Greenhouse in Low Earth Orbit,” Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Space Operations (SpaceOps 2016), Daejeon, Korea, May 16-20, 2016, paper: AIAA 2016-2533, URL:

4) ”Eu:CROPIS – Growing tomatoes in space,” DLR, April 24, 2014, URL:

5) Jens Hauslage, ”Gravitational Biology, Eu:CROPIS,” URL:

6) Thorsten Beck, Leonard Schlag, Jan Philipp Hamacher, ”ProToS: Next Generation Procedure Tool Suite for Creation, Execution and Automation of Flight Control Procedures,” Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Space Operations (SpaceOps 2016), Daejeon, Korea, May 16-20, 2016, paper: AIAA 2016-2374, URL:

7) C. Stangl, B. Lotko, M.P. Geyer, M. Oswald, A. Braun, “GECCOS – the new Monitoring and Control System at DLR-GSOC for Space Operations, based on SCOS-2000,” SpaceOps 2014, 13th International Conference on Space Operations, Pasadena, CA, USA, May 5-9, 2014, paper: AIAA 2014-1602

8) ”A satellite goes on a journey – with tomatoes on board,” DLR News, 18 October 2018, URL:

9) ”Eu:CROPIS life support system – greenhouses successfully launched into space,” DLR, 3 December 2018, URL:

10) Stephen Clark, ”Spaceflight preps for first launch of unique orbiting satellite deployers,” Spaceflight Now, 23 August 2018, URL:

11) ”DLR Signs Launch Services Agreement with Spaceflight Inc.,” Spaceflight Inc., July 8, 2014, URL:

12) ”Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express Mission,” SpaceX, 3 December 2018, URL:

13) ”Spaceflight - Introducing SSO-A: The smallsat express,” Spaceflight, 3 December 2018, URL:

14) ”German Space Operations Center commands satellite with software of the future,” DLR News, 22 July 2021, URL:

15) Falk Dambowsky, ”Farewell to the Eu:CROPIS mission,” DLR, 13 January 2020, URL:

16) Olaf Maibaum, Ansgar Heidecker, Fabian Greif, Markus Schlotterer, Andreas Gerndt, ”FDIR Handling in Eu:CROPIS,” Proceedings of the 12th IAA Symposium on Small Satellites for Earth Observation, Berlin, Germany, 06-10 May 2019

17) ”Lunar gravity 600 kilometers above Earth,” DLR Eu: CROPIS, 10 April 2019, URL:

18) Scott Richey, Lyn Rothschild, ”Power Cell,” NASA Fact Sheet, August 2015, FS-2015-07-03-ARC, URL:

19) Griffin McCutcheon, Ryan Kent, Ivan Paulino-Lima, Evlyn Pless, Antonio Ricco, Edward Mazmanian, Steven Hu, Bruce White, Dzung Hoang, Elizabeth Hyde, Earl Daley, Greenfiled Trinh, Brett Pugh, Eric Tapio, Karolyn Ronzano, Charles Scott Richey, Lynn J. Rothschild, ”PowerCell Payload on Eu:CROPIS - Measuring Synthetic Biology in Space,” Proceedings of the 30th Annual AIAA/USU SmallSat Conference, Logan UT, USA, August 6-11, 2016, paper: SSC16-XI-04, URL:

20) ”PowerCell,” NASA Facts, FS-2015-07-03-ARC, URL:

21) Thomas Berger, ”Future experiments onboard the ISS and beyond,” 20th WRMISS (Workshopp on Radiation Monitoring for the International Space Station) , September 8-15, 2015, Cologne, Germany,URL:

22) Front Grade article: "DLR Utilizes Frontgrade's Dual-Core Processors in Eu:CROPIS Satellite and Next Generation Payload Demonstrator" November 19, 2019, URL:

23) Stephen Clark, "Spaceflight’s 64-satellite rideshare mission set to last five hours", December 3, 2018, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

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