China’s automated Tianzhou-1 supply craft, launched on Thursday, has performed orbital adjustments in preparation for docking with the Tiangong-2 space laboratory on Saturday.
The Tianzhou-1 is set for three docking attempts with the unoccupied space lab that has been in orbit since last September. The cargo craft will fuel the facility at each docking attempt to test resupply technology.
During the cargo ship’s three-month stay in Earth orbit, refueling of the Tiangong-2 space lab is spotlighted as key to China’s ambition to build and sustain a permanent space complex in the 2020s.
Stem cell research
In a series of stories by the state-run Xinhua news service, the now orbiting Tianzhou-1 carries a number of scientific experiments. These types of experiments are expected to be followed-up by crews visiting China’s space station in the future.
Among the experiments is stem cell research to investigate the effects of microgravity on embryonic stem cell proliferation and differentiation. Performed by the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the supply spacecraft is carrying embryonic stem cells and embryoid bodies of mice.
Scientists will observe the process of their proliferation and differentiation in space as parallel experiments will be conducted on the ground to compare the results.
Previously, the research team conducted a series of space life science experiments on China’s recoverable satellites Sj-8 and Sj-10. Research into embryonic stem cells on China’s future space station would be focused culturing functional tissues, such as heart, kidney, liver and spleen tissues.
Another experiment is targeted on the effect of microgravity on human reproductive capacity. This Tianzhou-1 experiment from Tsinghua University aims to study the effects of the space environment on human reproduction, beginning with the study of microgravity on human stem cells and germ cells. Will microgravity affect the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells and the formation of germ cells?
This experiment on Tianzhou-1 will last 30 days. “Scientists on the ground will remotely control the research equipment to change the cell-culture medium to induce the human embryonic stem cells to differentiate into germ cells. Images of the cells under the microscope will be transmitted to Earth,” Xinhua reports.
Also onboard the Tianzhou-1 is a medicine to treat bone loss, a malady that impacts space travelers – but also is a health issue on Earth. Osteoporosis is the seventh most common disease in the world. Each year it causes 8.9 million cases of fractures worldwide.
This Tsinghua University experiment in microgravity will evaluate the effect of 3-hydroxybutyric acid (3HB) in preventing osteoporosis. Scientists will compare osteoblast cell samples treated and not treated with 3HB. Microscope images taken of the experiment in the cargo craft will be transmitted down to Earth.