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Barrios Protein Crystal Growth Experiment Achieves Significant Milestone

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER (Houston, TX): The Barrios Protein Crystal Growth (Barrios PCG) team achieved a significant milestone on August 17 with the completion of the Barrios PCG experiment, marking the first time that proteins were mixed, incubated, crystalized, and surveyed all aboard the International Space Station using commercial off-the-shelf multiwell plates. The Barrios PCG experiment defined an approach for optimizing protein crystallization conditions on orbit, eliminating the need to return samples to the ground during the optimization phase, which has the potential for saving substantial time and money on future PCG investigations in microgravity. These savings could lead to a better understanding of biochemical processes and the discovery of novel therapeutics.

Mastering the skills of pipetting, mixing and observing crystals in microgravity, and using a ‘real-time’ iterative process with varying crystal growth conditions while on-orbit, will produce high quality crystals in space and could represent a game-changer for future protein crystal growth research. Currently, investigators pre-mix protein on the ground and launch the samples to incubate on orbit. If the resulting crystals needed to be improved by tweaking reagents or growth conditions, the entire process would have to be repeated, including scheduling additional launches.

“We are incredibly proud to have performed the mission integration and operations for the Barrios PCG experiment in partnership with the principal investigator, space station crew, and the NASA Research Integration Office”, said Robert McAfoos, Barrios President. “This exciting milestone holds great promise for future research and, potentially, innovative treatments.”

The Barrios PCG experiment, executed by Barrios Technology and teammate, NanoRacks was conducted in support of the Real-Time Protein Crystal Growth (RTPCG) Mission Integration and Operations Task Order, awarded to Barrios in January this year as part of the Research, Engineering, and Mission Integration Services (REMIS) contract with NASA. Barrios PCG was the first commercial microgravity experiment for Barrios.

After the team successfully verified feasibility of mixing and pipetting small amounts of fluid under microgravity in Phase-1 (completed in June this year), Phase-2 applied an innovative protocol using NanoRacks’ microscope aboard the space station.

The Barrios PCG hardware launched to the space station aboard the SpaceX Dragon CRS-14 for Phase-1 and SpaceX Dragon CRS-15 for Phase-2. The operation completes the second and final phase of the Barrios PCG experiment.

About Barrios Headquartered in Houston, Barrios Technology is a woman-owned AS9100 certified engineering services company specializing in aerospace engineering & science, program planning & control, mission integration & operations, and software engineering & integration. Since 1980, Barrios has demonstrated their corporate mission to be the foremost small aerospace engineering services company providing extraordinary value to our customers, employees and communities. For more information on Barrios Technology, please call 281-280-1900 or visit

About NanoRacks NanoRacks is the world’s first commercial space station company with an existing customer base. The company offers low-cost, high-quality solutions to the most pressing needs for satellite deployment, basic and educational research and both at home and in 30 nations world-wide for those new to the industry and aerospace veterans. Since 2009, Texas-based NanoRacks has truly created new markets and ushered in a new era of in space-services.

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