Monitoring Tissue Oxygen Saturation in Microgravity

PI: Thomas Smith, University of Oxford

This project addresses the need for technology that is capable of measuring oxygen levels in the tissues of the human body (‘tissue oxygen saturation’) in space, with the ultimate aim of safeguarding the health of astronauts. This need has arisen from recent medical research demonstrating that reduced oxygen levels cause a loss of bone mass. Concerningly, the existing scientific evidence suggests that tissue oxygen levels may be moderately reduced in space, and this could accelerate the microgravity-induced bone decay that is well known to be one of the greatest threats to astronaut health.

Technology Areas (?)
  • TA06 Human Health, Life Support and Habitation Systems
Problem Statement

On long-duration missions, loss of calcium from the bones increases both the risk of fractures and the risk of kidney stones (due to excess calcium in the blood). If tissue oxygen saturation (StO2) is indeed reduced in space, we need to know. This project aims to extend the use of commercially-available medical monitoring technology to the microgravity environment. The payload is the recently-developed InSpectraTM StO2 Spot Check (model 300), which is the only portable handheld StO2 monitor currently in clinical use (Hutchinson Technology Inc, Minnesota, USA). This well-established technology uses near-infrared spectroscopy to measure StO2 noninvasively, and is used clinically in critical care medicine.

Technology Maturation

The primary objective is to demonstrate that the technology works in microgravity. Other objectives are to formally assess basic operation of the technology in microgravity conditions, to assess ease of use and identify possible risks in the flight environment, and to generate unique clinical data by making the first measurements of StO2 in microgravity. This data would guide further maturation for use in space, and may also be beneficial for this technology’s use on Earth.

Future Customers

This technology could genuinely contribute to the health of astronauts on long-duration space missions, which is critical to NASA’s human spaceflight program.

Payload Description

The payload is expected to operate successfully in microgravity and is a good candidate for use in space: it is small, weighing only 0.4 kg (10 times less than comparable devices); it has satisfied strict licensing and approval requirements for clinical use; and the technology has been used effectively in challenging environments such as on the battlefield and during helicopter emergency medical operations.

Technology Details

  • Selection Date
    AFO6 (Jun 2013)
  • Program Status
  • Current TRL (?)
    TRL 4
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 1 Parabolic

Development Team

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