Stem cells survive simulated return to Earth on space capsule

Even though the prototype capsule carrying them experienced problems with its attempted simulated landing, a cargo of adult stem cells survived a fall back to Earth during a drop test designed as part of an initiative to study how space affects the biological units.

According to, the capsule being used to transport the stem cells experienced issues related to the deployment of its parachute during the simulating landing. The cause of the failure is being investigated, but officials said that it is not related to the design of the parachute.

The RED-4U capsule was created by Atlanta-based Terminal Velocity Aerospace (TVA) to fly to the International Space Station and return science experiments to Earth, Dominic DePasquale, the company’s CEO, explained to the website on Tuesday. As part of this latest experiment, it had been carrying a cargo of adult stem cells provided by the Mayo Clinic.

Stem cells may grow more quickly in space

Those stem cells, which are capable of developing into any type of cell, are reportedly “thriving” despite the parachute deployment problem, said. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) gave the clinic a $30,000 grant to develop new techniques for growing stem cells in space, but thus far, no launch date has been announced.

DePasquale told that there is “evidence… from prior testing” that stem cells “will grow up to 10 times faster in space and have higher purity and other advantages as well.” The goal of this latest TVA flight test, which was funded by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, was to demonstrate low-cost communications array and electronics systems.

While the current test involved a balloon from Near Space Corp., which carried the RED-4U capsule to a height of about 20 miles (32 kilometers) before descending on a simulated return-from-space trajectory, TVA plans to fly the capsule into space in the near future. The next step involves ground testing and an additional round of parachute trials, said.

TVA, which was founded in 2012, is also testing a new flight protocol technology which allows airplanes to receive “situational awareness” about other flights. This system is known as ADS-B, and DePasqaule said that it will minimize the need for ground support tracing. It will be used by the Federal Aviation Administration to supplement and possibly replace traditional radar.


Feature Image: T0141-B demonstration of enabling communications technologies for future low-cost small Earth return vehicles. (Credit: TVA/NASA)