Make Bio-Experiments in Space Accessible. New Space Utilization Accelerated by Fingertip-sized Microscopic Observation Devices [Space Brothers Collab #18]

Warpspace Inc.
9 min readMay 15


Even though we call it “Space Development”, there are various purposes, technologies, and missions. In this series, we consider the current situation and the future of space development together with our Chief Dream Officer (CDO), Serika Ito.

The theme of this 18th article is space bio experiments. We welcomed Mr. Soichiro Ueno, Founder and CEO, and Mr. Wataru Ikeda, Chief Scientific Officer, of IDDK, a Japanese start-up that develops fingertip-sized microscopic observation devices with the aim of commercializing space bio experiments. This time we asked them about the significance and appeal of scientific experiments in space.

The Birth of a Fingertip-Sized Microscopic Observation Device

©Chuya Koyama/KODANSHA

Serika: Hello, Mr. Ueno and Mr. Ikeda! I was looking forward to hearing about your bio experiments in space. How did you two become involved in bio experiments in space?

Soichiro Ueno, Founder and CEO, IDDK

Ueno: I was always interested in space and robots, so I majored in electrical and electronic engineering at university. I joined an R&D lab that was focusing on the technology development for deployment on artificial satellites. One day, my professor posed a question to me, “Do you find hyperspectral camera* interesting?”

*Hyperspectral camera- It is an imaging sensor technology that allows for detailed observation of electromagnetic waves across a continuous spectrum of wavelengths, enabling the acquisition of image data for each specific wavelength. It can be used to estimate the composition of soil, water, and agricultural crops.

I had an opportunity to use a hyperspectral camera that a senior member of our lab was developing, and I was intrigued by its potential for applications in various fields. Therefore, I immediately responded, “Yes, I find it interesting.” My professor then said, “Well, from tomorrow, you’ll be working on developing hyperspectral cameras,” and just like that, my research topic was decided (laughs).

At first, we were developing hyperspectral cameras that could be mounted on Earth observation satellites, but we also decided to develop a type of camera that could be miniaturized and mounted on aircraft. Later. I was involved in the establishment of a start-up, selling hyperspectral cameras together with my professor.

When my work at the company settled down, I moved to a general electronics manufacturer with semiconductor manufacturing technology. This was because improving the technology of semiconductor sensors is the most effective way to enhance the performance of hyperspectral cameras.

The MID (Micro Imaging Device), which enables microscopic observation with a single chip, was invented through researches while I’m working at the company. Since it was difficult to commercialize it in-house, I decided to spin it out and founded IDDK in 2017. The company name is an acronym in Japanese for “Itsudemo (Anytime), Dokodemo (Anywhere), Daredemo-tsukaeru (can be used by Anyone), Kenbikansatsu-gijutsu (Microscopic observation technology).”

Wataru Ikeda, Chief Scientific Officer, IDDK

Ikeda: I studied Bioengineering in my master’s course and switched to Medicine for PhD and continued my research at the university until I became an associate professor.

When I was a doctoral student in the late 1990s, jellyfish-derived fluorescent proteins (commonly known as GFP) began to be used in research. This fluorescent protein was used as a landmark for various innovations, and it became possible to capture the movement of substances in cells. In our research, we introduced equipment that allowed us to take time-lapse images of cells using fluorescent proteins.

Until then, we had fixed cells and taken snapshots of them, but once we were able to see the movement of living cells as they were in time-lapse images, we were able to gain insights far beyond what we had imagined, and I was impressed.

After that, I moved to a research institute that was a subsidiary of a pharmaceutical company, and I continued to focus on imaging for cell behavior, particular in vivo imaging using living experimental animals. For example, I used a two-photon laser microscope to observe the growth process of cancer cells and how the cells reacted at the moment by drug administration while conducting drug discovery research.

I met Mr. Ueno when I was a principal scientist in the research institute. He was a sales representative for MID he invented. In that time, I was using a huge microscope, about the size of a four-and-a-half tatami mat(7.29㎡). When I saw the fingertip-sized MID, “ It would be amazing if this were implanted in the body.” I thought so and wanted to try that.

However, in drug discovery, depending on the stage of research, imaging is not necessary every time. So when I learned about MID, I was excited but after that, the opportunities to use imaging technology diminished. And unfortunately, the collaboration with IDDK did not materialize. Since then Mr. Ueno and I got along well, and we kept in touch as drinking buddies (laughs).

Ueno: Yes, when IDDK was established, we thought of using MIDs in regenerative medicine and laboratory automation (automation of experiments and research). But in the future, we talked in our pitch about taking advantage of MID’s characteristics and using it for bio-experiments in space.

In the meantime, satellite launches have gradually become more accessible, and the number of companies aiming to provide services to conduct scientific experiments with satellites has increased. We are now gradually starting to steer the course, thinking that a “space bio-experiment unit” could be realized if MIDs, which we have been considering for regenerative medicine and laboratory automation, were mounted on satellites.

Ikeda: Mr. Ueno asked me to join as an advisor for the space bio-experiments, but my previous job prohibited dual jobs at the same time. But I decided to switch jobs to IDDK because I wanted to be involved in the imaging field again, and I also wanted to be involved in the exciting keyword of space!

Compact Microscopic Imaging Device Facilitates Bio-Experiments in Space

Serika: Please tell us about the MID, a fingertip size microscopic observation device.

Ikeda: Conventional microscopes require an “objective lens” to obtain a magnified sample image. For more magnified observation, a lens with a higher magnification is selected, but when switch to a higher magnification, the field of view gets narrower.

On the other hand, MID has a fine array of photodiodes (optical sensors) that allow direct microscopic observation of objects that are close enough to touch. In other words, the designed photodiode area becomes the field of view as it is. Even at high magnification, the field of view is not reduced.


For example, this is a picture of tardigrade (water bear) at MID.


Ueno: When we sold the “AminoME” USB microscopic observation device, which can be used by simply plugging it into a USB port on a PC, through a crowdfunding site, we received many comments that expressed excitement and surprise. Then we were able to reach out to a diverse range of individuals, not only the general public but also university professors and researchers who expressed keen interest in our product.

Ikeda: And now we are developing a “MID board” for space bio-experiment. It is easily used by connecting it to a single-board computer called Raspberry Pi with a cable and operating commands for the camera. In short, it’s a “ultra-compact microscope with a computer”. It is about half the size of a business card, so it fits into a 1U satellite.

MID board ©︎IDDK

IDDK’s service includes to create an experimental unit for space by combining modules such as heaters, pumps, and flow paths according to researchers’ purposes and applications, and to install the unit on satellites prepared by our space transportation service partners to establish space bio-experiments.


Serika: What are the advantages of bio-experiments in space?

Ikeda: As you know, experiments to produce protein crystals have proven useful for X-ray structure analysis because it is high probability of obtaining well-ordered protein crystals.. Recently, experiments of “organoids,” which are expected to create artificial organs, have reported that some types of organoids are easier to form in microgravity.

©Chuya Koyama/KODANSHA

But that is not the only importance of experiments in space. The reason people want to go into space is to satisfy their spirit of exploration, adventure, and curiosity. Therefore, they are motivated to endure extreme environments so that they can live with minimal facilities. However, in the future, when space becomes a habitat for humans and we become accustomed to living in space, there will be things that we will find lacking. So, we will need to research the facilities, environment, food, clothing, and housing for improvement of the quality of life in space, but those researches have not progressed at all.

It is undeniable that the ISS, the only place for research in space, is a narrow gate with various restrictions and limitations that prevent us from freely conducting experiments. For humanity to advance into space, we, IDDK, believe that we should provide a place for experiments and researches that opens the door to where we can build towards innovation one by one.

Even for space suits and deep-space probes?

Serika: How do you hope to contribute to society through IDDK’s MID technology?

Ueno: There are many situations in our daily lives that are supported by microscopic observation technology. For example, microorganisms are used to purify drinking water, and microscopes are used to control them. In some cases, microscopes are used for quality control in the manufacture of products. Microscopic technology is used in the background of every possible aspect of our lives. With the advent of new forms of observation technology, such as MID, which allows observation on a chip, microscopic observation can now be performed without the need for large equipment. I believe that microscopic observation will become more widely used in the world as MID is free from the limitations of conventional microscopes.

One example is biological experiments in space. Conventional microscopes were large so it was considered difficult to transport them to the ISS, but with the MID, you can attach it to the fingertip of a spacesuit and make microscopic observations of the part you are touching. With MIDs on spacecraft, we may be able to observe life on planets and asteroids in the future!

Serika: If we can attach MIDs to space suits for extravehicular activities and lunar exploration, it will lead to new discoveries.

©Chuya Koyama/KODANSHA

I would like to use it on the ground. Finally, what are your ambitions for the future?

Ueno: We would like to establish space bio-experiments platforms in artificial satellites and lead the world with our capability to conduct bio-experiments in space. . By using not only the space station but also satellites, we would like to make space bio-experiments accessible to people around the world.

I believe that these satellite-based space bio-experiments will also contribute to the space industry. Most space applications have been either satellite-based communications or satellite-based exploration and observation. If space bio-experiments can be conducted frequently, I believe that new ways of using space will emerge, and the space industry will expand one step further. In particular, some bio-experiments can produce results in three days, which would allow for increasing the profits from satellites even with short-term operation. If this happens, the cost-benefit of satellites would greatly increase, leading to more satellites being launched. Then we will be able to use space more and the space industry will grow.

Serika: Thank you very much, Mr. Ueno and Mr. Ikeda!

In our next interview, we will welcome Professor Hideaki Miyamoto, who teaches at the University of Tokyo and conducts research and exploration of space resources in the solar system, to talk about space resources and the benefits that research can bring to human life. Stay tuned!



Warpspace Inc.

Warpspace develops “WarpHub InterSat”, an optical inter-satellite data relay service. We will realize this service for LEO Sat operators by 2025.