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Photos: The tiny satellites powering pioneering research

SporeSat

SporeSat is an autonomous, free-flying spacecraft that is observing how plant cell biology alters in the low gravity of earth's orbit.

On-board experiments will investigate the effect of gravity on the reproductive spores of the fern, Ceratopteris richardii. Some plants, including C. richardii, use gravity to determine direction and to guide their roots down into the earth. Three lab-on-a-chip devices will compare the fern's behaviour in the low gravity of earth's orbit with that of ferns subject to higher gravitational forces, as a result of being spun.

Launched in April this year, the 3U spacecraft was designed through a partnership between NASA’s Ames Research Center and the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University.

Image: Dominic Hart/NASA Ames

By Nick Heath

Nick Heath is a computer science student and was formerly a journalist at TechRepublic and ZDNet.