MARES enables the first experiment to measure muscle atrophy in space

24/01/2017 (Spain)
MARES enables the first experiment to measure muscle atrophy in space

SENER engineering and technology group was recently involved in the first experiment to measure muscle atrophy on the International Space Station (ISS). This was conducted using scientific instrumentation developed by SENER, specifically its Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES).

As part of the Proxima mission, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet successfully completed the first two sessions of the Sarcolab experiment, which involved electrical stimulation and measurement of knee and ankle muscles using MARES scientific instrumentation. The two sessions took place on the ISS towards the end of 2016, and were supervised from the space station operations control room in Toulouse by members of the SENER team working on the MARES project.

MARES: scientific instrumentation to study the effects of microgravity

MARES is a European Space Agency (ESA) scientific system designed and built by SENER’s space life support experts. It is integrated in the Columbus module of the ISS and is part of the NASA space laboratory, the Human Research Facility (HRF). The system is designed to research the effects of microgravity on the human muscular system – which include atrophy, a decline in muscular strength, and osteoporosis due to a loss of calcium in the bones – as well as its effects on neuromuscular interactions. Currently, astronauts on the ISS are following exercise routines to counter these effects, but proper analysis of their results has not yet been possible. MARES enables them to monitor the benefits of the gym exercises they are performing while still in orbit. This makes it possible to establish effective training protocols and to compare the physical condition of astronauts before and after their stays on the ISS. SENER has manufactured 4 MARES systems; in addition to the one on the ISS there is one installed in the ESA’s training facility at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne (Germany), another in the CADMOS operations support center in Toulouse, and preparations are being made for the fourth to be installed in the Gagarin Research & Test Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Moscow.

MARES was designed to carry out studies in muscular, neuromuscular and neurological physiology, and to enable research into the atrophy induced both in muscle groups in individual joints in the trunk and limbs and in the muscle groups of whole limbs. To do so it applies a stimulus with programmable speed or torque/force to 11 muscle groups in order to then measure the torque/force and speed of the subject’s response.

Sarcolab: one of the most complex experiments on the Proxima mission

Myotendinous and Neuromuscular Adaptation to Long-term Spaceflight (Sarcolab) is an experiment being conducted jointly by the space agencies of Europe, the United States and Russia (ESA, NASA and ROSKOSMOS, respectively). Sarcolab was designed to assess the atrophy suffered by astronauts in the muscle groups in their knee and ankle joints, which are those most affected in this sense by prolonged microgravity.

The data obtained from MARES in this space experiment are subsequently compared with tests performed before and after astronauts’ stays on the ISS using the other MARES equipment on Earth. This makes it possible to evaluate the changes in muscles and tendons due to microgravity and to help develop measures to compensate these effects after long periods spent in space.

Following the success of these two sessions, during 2017 the experiment is set to be repeated with two new astronauts: one European and one Russian.

SENER’s responsibility in this program is yet another example of its many successes in the space industry, other noted examples being its contributions to the Proba-3, Rosetta and Gaia missions, to the Curiosity rover, and to the BepiColombo, Seosat/INGENIO, Herschel and Planck, Solar Orbiter, and Meteosat Third Generation satellites, among others. SENER’s triumphs in these programs cement its reputation as a supplier of production and engineering services for the space industry, covering three areas of activity: precision mechanisms, optical payloads, and guidance, navigation and control (GNC) systems. With 50 years of experience in Space, SENER has delivered over 270 devices and systems that have been successfully launched in satellites and space vehicles for agencies from the USA (NASA), Europe (ESA), Japan (JAXA) and Russia (Roscosmos).

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