Skip to main content

ICE Cubes Service - International Commercial Experiment Cubes Service

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ICE Cubes (ICE Cubes Service - International Commercial Experiment Cubes Service)

Reporting period: 2016-06-01 to 2017-05-31

The International Space Station (ISS) is a great technical achievement, designed as a flexible laboratory able to support the performance of science in a wide range of disciplines. Now fully assembled and with its Full Operational Capability in place since 2011 there is a major opportunity for Europe and the world to exploit its capabilities to the maximum extent.

However making use of the ISS is still not attractive for the large numbers of potential users, due to the burden of complex rules and procedures associated with developing, qualifying, scheduling launches of, and operating equipment on-board the ISS which translates into many years from initial idea to flying the resulting equipment.

The International Commercial Experiment Cubes Service (ICE Cubes) will provide rapid, simplified, low cost access to the International Space Station, creating the opportunity to maximise the use of the remaining lifetime of the ISS.

The initial service will enable any organisation, public or private entity or individual, such as universities, academic programmes and industrial companies/research centres or private persons to perform experiments on the ISS.

ICE Cubes strives for excellence by:
• Reducing and eliminating the many barriers to commercial, scientific and academic use of the ISS with the consequence that there will be many more users, much more science and industrial exploitation achieved;
• Offering a fast track to realising experiments which allows scientific papers to be published more rapidly, that meets the commercial demands of industry and fits with academic curricula time tables;
• Offering miniaturised state of the art capabilities tailored to clearly identified market and user needs.

The ICE Cubes service includes:
• As much or as little customer support as needed, throughout the process of experiment development, flight acceptance, launch and operation of the customers’ experiments;
• The ICE Cubes on-orbit facility consisting of (1) a Framework facility for ‘plug-and-play’ modular Experiment Cubes and (2) the PharmaLab, a novel multi-cube facility for pharmaceutical research;
• An out of the box installable ground monitoring and control software to access experiments;
• Promotion and awareness building, marketing and sales;
• Market driven development of additional added value miniaturised equipment and facilities.

This project will result in the set up and initial operation of the ICE Cube service, including the design and development of the ICE Cubes system, the launch of the multipurpose facility, the PharmaLab facility and at least one Experiment Cube developed by a university and their on-orbit and on-ground operation.
The programme started with the definition of the system requirements for the flight and the ground segment.

Contacts were immediately started with ESA to establish a partnership for the accommodation of the ICE Cubes facility and the exploitation of the commercial service in the Columbus module of the International Space Station.
In parallel with the beginning of the contacts with ESA, and waiting for the consolidation of the interest in the partnership, the design of the multipurpose ICE Cubes facility started with accommodation studies run by Space
Applications Services and based on the company's experience and knowledge of the Space Station and the Columbus module in particular.
A partnership Pilot Phase was established with ESA in the last part of the first period of the action and the technical exchanges confirmed the design approach and allowed for an acceleration of the design and the detailed definition of the exploitation aspects. The confirmation of the operations concept also helped complete the design and definition of the ground segment, essential for the exploitation of the commercial service.

The partnership with ESA allows for launch services which may be complemented by services from commercial launch providers.

Together with the engineering activities, a campaign of marketing and communication was started, which included the participation to the major events, congresses and conferences, the set up of a website dedicated to the service, production and distributions of posters and flyers and a campaign of direct contacts and communication with the possible customers.

Launch of the ICE Cubes facility is scheduled on SpX14 in January 2018 with 5 customer cubes. Agreements with customers for launch later in 2018 are being set up.
The ICE Cubes service provides a solution to the science, educational and industrial community wanting to fly small experiments to the ISS, and in particular to Columbus, as part of or complementing the ESA SciSpace programme. It even brings the possibility for schools and the general public to participate in flying experiments on the ISS.

ICE Cubes provides Europe and others with an end-to-end service for ‘low-cost, fast-track’ small experiments Low Earth Orbit (LEO) flights, with the initial service targeting a better exploitation of the European Columbus module. It is also important to notice that the ‘Plug-and-Play’ Experiment Cubes service is very attractive to and can act as a catalyst for universities and research centres also from ‘developing space-faring nations’.

The project has developed new technology key to establishing novel fast-track services that allow customers to fly their payloads within 12 months, at a price which is an order of magnitude lower than current prices.

The project meets the impact expectation of the call to achieve “high growth, with highly innovative SMEs with global ambitions that want to disrupt the established value networks and existing markets”. This is what ICE Cubes has directly targeted and is achieving, with customers from Europe, the USA, Russia and other regions.

ICE Cubes has also achieved the establishment of a novel, and to some extent, disruptive service that brings direct benefits to specific domains and stimulates growth, by reducing time to perform applied research in space, blue sky’s research in space, by reducing costs to perform in-orbit verification and due to the lower costs to access microgravity, capture additional users. The benefits to society are and will be many. The the project, as anticipated, has kick-started a virtuous circle of entrepreneurial high technology company collaboration, covering pharmaceuticals, life and biological sciences and stimulating developers of bio-reactors, micro-fluidics and analytical devices to develop novel, miniaturised and high performance instruments.
ICE Cubes Communications Path
ICE Cubes Facility Functional Demo Model