Every biological experiment on board the ISS begins with a proposal to the European Space Agency (ESA) from a team of scientists, mostly from a European research organization, who want to investigate their samples in a weightless environment. ESA then selects the appropriate facility in which the experiment can be conducted. BIOTESC is commissioned for the planning and execution of experiments selected to be performed in KUBIK or Biolab facility.
The biological samples for Biolab are transported in a small container to the ISS, where the astronaut manually inserts them into Biolab. Some of the further investigations can be partially automated within Biolab, but some activities rely on crew interaction with Biolab. The role of BIOTESC is to plan these activities and to produce detailed work instructions for astronauts, which is key to the success of the experiment.
By far the greatest challenge when planning an experiment in Biolab is the complexity of the facility, combined with the strict requirements in terms of the biology. Biological samples have a limited life-time, and are therefore often transported to the ISS in a frozen state. After the samples have thawed a "race against time" begins, where the temperature conditions must meet the very strict requirements.
The working hours of an astronaut are a valuable resource and consequently the daily work schedule of the ISS crew is fully packed. It requires a lot of effort and coordination to plan the crew-activities that are necessary for carrying out the experiment.
In order to find the optimal timing and conditions the timeline of an experiment is tested several times on ground before the flight to the ISS. It may well take several years until all requirements can be met and combined into a functional timeline. At least two of these tests take place in a ground-based replica of Biolab.
In addition to the preparations for the experiments BIOTESC supports the astronauts via radio during the execution of the experiments and answers any questions that might arise. During the planning and execution phase, BIOTESC is supported by experts from Cologne, Germany, who are responsible for the facility and for commanding the Biolab from the ground.