The OM3 has been developed by Oceaneering for the NASA Johnson Space Center as a critical component of theCrystal Preparation Prime Item (CPPI) The CPPI is one of the first true telescience facilities. It is a key sub-system of the X-Ray Crystallography Facility (XCF) that will be flown on the International Space Station. The XCF will grow, prepare, freeze, store, and x-ray protein crystals in space. The CPPI, which was developed entirely in-house by OSS, uses robotics and automation to prepare, freeze, and store the protein crystals. The CPPI removes crystals, along with a small amount of mother liquor (the liquid used to grow crystals) from their growth cells. It then isolates candidate crystals and, at the command of a scientist on the ground, captures and processes them, if necessary flash freezing the crystals to -183║ C. All of this is performed in a tightly controlled thermal environment.
Mapping the structure of protein crystals helps researchers develop highly effective drugs that interact only with the virus- or disease-causing proteins, therefore producing only minimal side effects. Protein crystals grow best in space, an environment where the effect of gravity is minimized. Right now, all protein crystals that are grown in space have to take the bumpy ride home on the Space Shuttle. The vibrations associated with landing the Shuttle can damage some sensitive crystals. Other crystals start to decay before they can be x-rayed and some take longer to develop than the typical 10-14 days of a Space Shuttle flight.
The Oceaneering Multi-Purpose Micro Manipulator (OM3™) performs many of the tasks that would otherwise require an astronaut. Scientists on the ground interact with the experiment in space by selecting the crystals they want to x-ray. Automation and remote control does the rest.