Feb. 20 (UPI) -- NASA is preparing to send a variety of new scientific research projects to the International Space Station, including an experiment designed by the shoe company Adidas, among others.
Officials from NASA, as well as representatives from several companies, outlined some of the 20 projects headed to the ISS on March 2 aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft during a press briefing on Thursday.
Michael Roberts, interim chief scientist for the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, said the amount of revenue generated by contracts with commercial partners has steadily increased over the last several years.
"This demonstrates a heightened demand by these companies to utilize the unique space environment on the International Space Station," Roberts said.
Roberts and his colleagues don't just partner with Fortune 500 companies. Evaluators at the ISS National Lab work with NASA and a variety other federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture and National Institutes of Health, to select scientific experiments that could benefit from the space station's microgravity environment.
ISS National Lab fields investigations proposed by researchers from a variety of institutions, including public universities, nonprofits, startups and more.
As part of the BOOST Orbital Operations on Spheroid Tesellation investigation, astronauts onboard the space station will help Adidas study the behavior of a manufacturing process called particle foam molding. On Earth, Adidas uses the method to make performance midsoles, the layers between the shoe and sole.
The midsoles are formed by blowing thousands of pellets into a mold. Inside the mold, the pellets fuse together to form a uniform foam. When a single type of pellet is used, the foam features uniform qualities, but when multiple pellet types are used, the mechanical properties of the midsole can be tweaked.
Manufacturing and material engineers at Adidas hope the absence of gravity will help them better understand how different types of pellets behave -- how they move and get distributed throughout the mold -- during the particle foam molding process.
NASA hopes the Adidas BOOST investigation will inspire more companies to contract with NASA for research projects on the space station.
The Adidas experiment is just one of many science projects being transported to the space station next month.
One of those experiments is designed to investigate water droplet formation and water flow in Delta Faucet's H2Okinetic showerhead technology.
"Regulations continue to push the flow rates down," Paul Patton, researcher with Delta Faucet and principal investigator of the Droplet Formation Study, told reporters during a press call. "So we want to know how we can improve the experience of the end user while meeting regulations designed to conserve water, which we know is a precious resource."
The effects of gravity on water droplet formation aren't well understood, and insights provided by the experiment could be used to improve the technology and boost water conservation.
The ACE-T-Ellipsoids experiment is another of the projects selected for transport to the space station next month. The project is designed to study of the behavior of colloids, small particles suspended within a fluid. The results could help scientists designed better inks for use in 3D printing.
Another study will focus the ways microgravity influences the production of heart cells from human-induced pluripotent stem cells.
"We hope to develop more efficient and cost effective methods for producing heart muscle cells from stem cells on Earth," said Chunhui Xu, associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine.
The Flow Chemistry in Microgravity project will look at the effects of microgravity on chemical reactions.
"We found ourselves asking questions like: If you wanted to synthesize aspirin on the international space station, what would that look like?" said Aaron Beeler, professor of medicinal chemistry at Boston University. "The answer was always, 'We don't know.'"
"So we started talking to NASA and the ISS National Lab about developing a platform that could be on the space station that could allow researchers to study those questions," Beeler said. "It's a small box that has everything you would need to carry out a wide range of synthetic chemistry experiments."
When the Dragon cargo spacecraft blasts off next month, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, it will carry supplies and equipment to the ISS, in addition to the experiments.
One of the pieces of equipment carried cargo ship will be Bartolomeo facility, an external container that will attach to the outside of the European Columbus Module.
The container, designed and built by engineers at the European Space Agency and Airbus, will offer more space for scientific experiments. Future projects hosted by Bartolomeo will be able to take advantage of unobstructed views toward Earth and into space.
"Experiments hosted in Bartolomeo receive comprehensive mission services, including technical support in preparing the payload, launch and installation, operations and data transfer and optional return to Earth," according to NASA. "Potential applications include Earth observation, robotics, material science and astrophysics."