Teledyne Brown Engineering Awarded $2 Million Space Station Contract
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (April 12, 2000)-Teledyne Brown Engineering has received a follow-on contract valued at more than $2 million to build an Observable Protein Crystal Growth Apparatus (OPCGA) for the International Space Station.
Teledyne Brown Engineering is a subcontractor to the University of California-Irvine, the primary contractor to NASA on the project. This award brings the total value of Teledyne Brown's contract with UC-Irvine to $8.5 million.
"We have an integrated design team with Teledyne Brown," said Greg Jenkins, program manager for UC-Irvine in Huntsville. "The people at Teledyne Brown are terrific. They work very well with our people at UCI."
The robotic apparatus, a cylinder-shaped container about the size of a water cooler, houses scientific experiments in protein crystallography. Scientists hope the data from those experiments will someday provide an understanding of why crystals grow differently in microgravity. Crystallization of proteins is currently a major obstacle in biomedical research and rational drug design.
"The evidence suggests that growing crystals in space, in a microgravity environment, will provide better crystals for scientists to work with," said Jim Satterfield, Director of Aerospace Hardware Development and Integration for Teledyne Brown.
Jenkins said Earth's gravity causes stirring in solutions that contain crystals. In the weightlessness of space, the environment for those crystals is calmer. Crystals, Jenkins said, are a well-ordered stack of molecules. Stacking those crystals on Earth is a lot like trying to stack or sort paper on a windy day. Stacking those same crystals in space is much easier, like sorting paper on a calm day. The OPCGA studies how microgravity affects crystal growth.
"Rational drug design is like making a key that fits a lock," Jenkins said. "When you make a key that's just a tiny bit off, it might not work in the lock. A very exact model of the protein, or the lock, is needed to make a key that fits it perfectly."
Satterfield said Teledyne Brown provided the enabling technology for the solid-optic interferometer, the device at the heart of the OPCGA. "That's the instrument that actually takes the measurement," he said, "so we can observe the crystals during their growth life."
Jenkins added, "Teledyne Brown's work on the solid-optics allows us to move the optical instrument and keep the samples still. Traditional interferometers have such a sensitivity to vibration that, one, they wouldn't stay aligned during launch, and two, we'd have to move the samples around, which is what we don't want."
Teledyne Brown previously built the prototype OPCGA, and will now build the actual flight hardware for an upcoming Space Shuttle mission to the space station.
Patricia Pyles, program and development manager on OPCGA for Teledyne Brown, said, "Once they fly this apparatus and see how successful it is, there will be other opportunities for future flight hardware units. This apparatus is the one of the first in existence that allows for real-time observation of the crystal growth process, and it's the most sophisticated in existence for space application."
Teledyne Brown Engineering, Inc., a technology solutions company, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Teledyne Technologies Incorporated (NYSE: TDY). Teledyne Technologies, headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif., is a leading provider of sophisticated electronics and communications products, systems engineering solutions, and aerospace engines and components. Teledyne Technologies employs more than 5,800 people in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Mexico.