AstroBio CubeSat (ABCS) is a 3U CubeSat (100×100×340 mm) selected by European Space Agency (ESA) to be launched on fall 2020 with the Vega C qualification maiden flight, as piggy back of the ASI LARES2 satellite. ABCS will be deployed in an approximately circular orbit at 5900 km altitude and 70° of inclination spending a significant amount of the orbital period within the harsh internal Van Allen belt, close to its maximum. ABCS will host a laboratory payload based on an innovative lab-on chip technology suitable for research in astrobiology. The objective is to test in space environment a highly integrated laboratory using immunoassay techniques exploiting chemiluminescence detection. The experiment will consist in a set of lateral flow immunoassays (LFIA) on nitrocellulose support with immobilized biomolecules target. Liquid reagents will solubilize and transport along the path the deposited reagents, triggering specific reactions and allowing the chemiluminescence detection by photodiodes. The mission aims at evaluating the overall system functionality in an extremely harsh environment such as: handling of liquids in microgravity, chemicals and biomolecules stability in space, Lab-on-Chip and photo-detection characterization, readout noise evaluation, etc. The main challenge of the project is to mitigate the effects of the expected very high flux of charged particles, keeping the suitable temperature and pressure range to prevent reagents degradation. This invoked a series of technological solutions to protect the payload. The pressurized environment is ensured within an inner aluminium box, hosting both the experiment and the main subsystems (batteries, on-board data handling, telemetry, tracking and control), hermetically sealed and providing shielding from radiation and charged particles. A thermal control system, including a passive control multi-layer insulation and an active heather mounted inside the pressurized box, maintains the temperature in the desired range. The in-orbit validation of the proposed technology would represent a significant breakthrough for autonomous execution of bio-analytical experiments in space with potential application in search for signs of life in planetary exploration missions, space biolabs without human support, health monitoring in manned missions.
Acknowledgments: AstroBio-CubeSat is supported by ASI – Italian Space Agency ASI/INAF Agreement n. 2019-30-HH.0.