To gain a deeper understanding of this phenomenon, the 'FreqBone' bioreactor project was conceived by Jos Vander Sloten, Gerrit Van Lenthe and Geert Carmeliet of the Catholic University of Leuven, Division of Biomechanics and Engineering Design, in Belgium, and deployed in a European Space Agency (ESA) low-earth orbit mission. In essence their FreqBone experiment involved 12 pieces of living cowbone (that were constantly 'fed' during the flight to keep the bones alive) being exposed to a 12 day vibration experiment inside a satellite orbiting the earth under weightless conditions and exposed to cyclical solar loads due to it orbiting the earth 15 times a day at a speed of 28,000 km/h.
The Foton unmanned recoverable spacecraft series was first introduced by the former Soviet Union with an inaugural flight in 1985 after the successful Soviet Soyuz rockets and capsules from the 1960s. It was conceived as a microgravity platform for physicists and materials scientists to complement the very similar Bion capsules that were aimed at life science studies. In recent years, an increasing number of biology and non-microgravity experiments were transferred to Foton, while the Bion program was discontinued. The Foton-M3 Russian spacecraft is designed to perform space experiments during a short mission life (generally up to two weeks). The Russian Space Agency, Roskosmos, is responsible for the spacecraft while ESA is responsible for its payload and experiments. The FreqBone project was completed and the experimental test done on the Russian Foton-M3 Rocket ESA, and indeed it was one of fourteen ESA experiments in the rocket payload bay including ones for fluid physics, biology, protein crystal growth, meteoritics, radiation dosimetry and exobiology.
It is well-known that mechanical loading is necessary in obtaining adequate bone strength; however, the specific details are still largely unknown. Hence, the FreqBone space flight experiment was designed to investigate how mechanical stresses and strains affect bone remodeling processes, and how this is affected by microgravity. In November 2007, FreqBone was flown successfully on board of the Foton-M3 mission. A total of 12 bovine trabecular bone specimens spent 14 days in microgravity. Half of them were biomechanically stimulated by high-frequency, low mplitude loads; the other half were kept unloaded in microgravity. The specific aim of the project was to analyze these samples with the goal of linking the local mechanical milieu in the bone samples to areas of bone resorption and bone apposition.
For the FreqBone project to be successful QinetiQ Aerospace engineers in Flanders had in essence to design a box that was under 10kg in weight with an internal temperature in the 'bonechamber' of exactly 37.2°C plus or minus 0.1°C. They turned to Voxdale to help them in the thermofluid design of the ducting and chamber in which the experiment needed to be kept at a uniform temperature during the repeated low-earth orbits. The real challenge to the experiment was in the transition periods when the satellite was exposed to fullsunlight and then full-darkness as it moved into the earth's shadow.
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