Photonics ISS Multipurpose Microscopy Suite (PIMMS)

The Photonics ISS Multipurpose Microscopy Suite (PIMMS) can perform physical and life science investigations in real-time with high-resolution microscopy to provide a versatile solution for upgrading the current microscopy facilities onboard the ISS National Lab (ISS-NL) to current laboratory state-of-the-art technology.


The PIMMS system incorporates bright field, dark field, phase contrast, polarization and oblique optics utilizing both transmitted and reflected LED illumination. In addition, near-UV laser excitation provides normal and confocal fluorescence microscopy with a wide range of filter sets to accommodate a diverse array of fluorophores. All PIMMS optical imaging modes provide extreme lateral and axial resolution, bit depth and dynamic range. Other features include: three-dimensional imaging and analysis and time-lapse observations of dynamic processes such as crystal formation and polymerization events. The PIMMS platform meets current and anticipated future needs for an extremely wide array of microgravity investigations onboard the ISS-NL. PIMMS can be operated automated, remotely controlled from the ground or in crew operation modes.

1.1 Standard Features

  • Objective turret with up to 8 selectable microscope objective lenses ranging in magnification form 2X-100X.
  • LED illumination capabilities include:
    • Reflected incident light
    • Transmitted light
    • Epi-illumination
  • Standard optical imaging methods include:
    • Brightfield
    • Darkfield
    • Phase contrast
    • Oblique imaging capabilities
  • Automated fine Z-translation for high performance microscope focus control.
  • An easily accessible specimen drawer which can hold multiple samples simultaneously for ease of use and reduced crew operations. The specimen drawer has a gantry capable of moving to observe all samples.
  • PIMMS can support high-resolution microscopy for a variety of sample configurations (multi-well plates, petri-dishes and microscope slides) to provide a versatile platform for a wide range of physical and life science investigations onboard the ISS-NL.
  • Time-lapse imaging is offered in the standard package to allow investigators to observe and quantify dynamic processes that occur from minutes to hours to days.
  • SCORPIO-V Control Center support for the full duration of your on-orbit experiment.

1.2 Additional Features

1.21 Three-Dimensional Imaging and Analysis

  • Includes z-axis stacking to produce enhanced depth of focus imaging.
  • Provides 6 modes of 3D viewing including stereo 3D and motion 3D video.
  • HNu-Edge 3D computer and Panfocal software will facilitate the processing and analysis of the 3D images captured onboard the ISS-NL.

1.22 High Numerical Aperture Lenses

  • Ranging in magnification from 40X to 100X for enhanced-resolution imaging at high magnifications.

1.23 Fluorescence Microscopy

PIMMS will support fluorescence microscopy investigations.
  • Epi-fluorescence illumination.
  • Multiple illumination sources to provide a wide range of excitation options from 400-700 nm will be available with automated selection and control to provide illumination for a diverse array of fluorescent samples.
  • Automated turrets will provide the selection of different dichroic filter options and filter sets to ensure high throughput of the emission signal to the camera for efficient fluorophore detection with emissions from 425- 750 nm wavelength band.

1.24 Confocal Scanner Microscopy

PIMMS also provides a confocal imaging mode as an added feature for microgravity researchers.
  • Automated selection between standard imaging mode and confocal imaging mode.
  • Capable of confocal fluorescence imaging.
  • Automated control of confocal fluorescent illumination sources.
  • Selected confocal specific dichroic, excitation, and emission filters will provide high levels of throughput to the camera.

1.25 Polarization Microscopy

PIMMS will be outfitted with a polarization system to allow researchers to investigate birefringent properties of fluids and materials onboard the ISS-NL.
  • The system will include rotatable polarizers and analyzers that will reveal the birefringence in specimens, allowing researchers to study ceramics, fibers, polymers, and a range of biological macromolecules.
  • PIMMS is designed so that the processes of polymerization and crystal formation can be seen polarized, in 3D and with time-lapse capabilities.

1.26 Ground-Based Experiment Replicate

A replicate PIMMS facility will be available to investigators to conduct their ground control experiments to support their microgravity investigations on the ISS-NL. The ground-based PIMMS facility will have the same microscopy capabilities as the on-orbit PIMMS facility. The ground based experiment replicate package will provide investigators with the option to perform a ground control experiment in conjunction with their on-orbit experiment. If an investigator chooses to use additional offerings (high N.A. lenses, fluorescence, polarized, 3D or confocal microscopy) the ground-based replicate experiment will perform the same operations at no additional cost.

1.3 Customized Services

Experiments requiring additional services for custom design, sample analysis, or other support are offered on a case-by-case basis. Additional offerings may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Safety and Verification for Flight Certification of payload, including provision of data to NASA verifying that payload hardware and operations satisfy all designated space flight integration interface requirements, and completion of safety data packages to the ISRP with required hazard causes, controls, and verifications.
  • Mission Planning, Management, and Operations Support, including submission ISS operations concept and hardware data and documentation for development of crew procedures, timelines, crew training materials, and other operations products. Train ground teams and crew members on PIMMS hardware and experiment operations as needed.
  • Pre-flight operations, including coordination of lab facilities, sample preparation, and coordination of late load activities.
  • HNu Control Center, operations support for the duration of the on-orbit experiment.
  • Customized filter sets can be selected to allow strong isolation of signals from specific types of fluorophores as necessary.
  • The PIMMS stage and sample holders can be customized to fit an investigators research needs.
  • The SCORPIO-V team will offer customized sample holders to meet NASA’s safety requirements, PIMMS optical requirements and the investigator’s research requirements as a customized solution for industry, academic and government researchers.