Humans have been performing science experiments in space ever since space travel became possible (anyone remember Laika, the Soviet space dog?). But not just anyone could perform a space science experiment–you’d need to come up with a detailed proposal, make an official request to the International Space Station (ISS), and hope for approval. As of today, that’s no longer the case. No matter how silly or unprofessional your homemade experiment is, you can now send it to space within nine months for less than $5,000.
This democratization of space experiments comes courtesy of Ardulab, an Arduino-based container for science experiments. Created by Infinity Aerospace and Atmel, ArduLab features a microcontroller that has the ability to control hundreds of different sensors at the experimenters’ choosing and a simple USB cable for computer connections.
The small polycarbonate cube has been on the market for months, with prices ranging from $1,999 to $2,499 depending on tech specs, but today marks the first time that the platform will be sent into space. The first demonstration Ardulab will fly on an unmanned commercial cargo capsule to the ISS. Some 20 early customers, including high schools, Stanford University, and NASA, will be watching closely.
No astronauts are needed to tend to the experiments. Everything is automated, and customers can get video, pictures, and raw sensor data beamed back to them. “You can control experiment remotely in real time and share it with people,” says Infinity Aerospace co-founder Manu Sharma.
According to Sharma, scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab are working on an experiment designed to mix different different fluids together and see how they react in space. Ardulab’s early high school customers, meanwhile, are planning to send plants into space. “We’re working with CASIS [a NASA-funded nonprofit] and devising a new curriculum for high schools so they can use Ardulab,” he says.
Once you’ve purchased an Ardulab, it will still cost a pretty penny to send it into the stratosphere. Getting an educational experiment to the ISS for a 30-day trip costs approximately $30,000, while commercial experiments cost at least $60,000. The cheapest option is Ardulab’s “space program,” which costs $4,995 for the cube, a series of sensors, a launch log, and a sub-orbital space launch aboard an XCOR Aerospace Lynx spaceplane (experiments stay in microgravity for 4.6 minutes). “We think the education market will benefit from going faster and spending less money,” says Sharma.
The first sub-orbital Ardulab launch is expected to happen in about nine months.