News and Tribune

January 26, 2014

OUT OF THIS WORLD: Greenville firm’s Bone Densitometer destined for space


GREENVILLE — The Bone Densitometer is currently in several pieces. But most of the testing on an exact replica has been completed. It’s taken two years from the time the contract was signed until the product’s grand unveiling aboard the International Space Station in June.

The Bone Densitometer will measure bone and muscle loss in mice during orbital space flight. The tests are necessary in order to develop countermeasures for bone and muscle loss in crew members and for bone-loss syndromes on Earth.

It’s just one of several projects being completed at Techshot in Greenville. But with an expected launch date of June 6, it is the hot item at the facility.

However, building equipment for experiments in space is nothing new at Techshot. For the first 16 years of its existence, the company’s only contract was with NASA, and many of the payloads on space shuttle missions were designed and built at Techshot. Today Techshot works for the military as well as private companies including Coca Cola and Procter and Gamble.

There are few companies comparable to Techshot.

“For what we do, I would say about a half-dozen companies do what we do,” said Rich Boling, vice president of corporate advancement. “We build the picks and shovels [for the scientists]. We design everything here.”

After the Bone Densitometer is launched, there are two or three other projects being put together at Techshot “marching toward flight” Boling said. The company is also designing a new and improved stretcher for the Army, and through its subsidiary, Techshot Lighting LLC, has already developed special LED lights to be used in tents for the military.

Un-manned spacecrafts are now used to take equipment and experiments to the space station. Boling said the Bone Densitometer will not be coming back to Greenville, but its findings will.

While the company had to redefine its mission with the elimination of the shuttle program and NASA cuts a few years ago, Boling said it is stronger than ever and now works with the private sector. The company may be asked by NASA, the military or private company to come up with a solution for a problem. Not only do their engineers find the solution, but also build and design it on site.

As for the next Techshot machine headed to space, the Bone Densitometer measures x-ray absorption by bone and soft tissue and reports bone density in mice. It can also measure soft tissue density, lean/fat ratio and total animal mass.

The exact model of the final product is used to “work out all the design challenges and issues,” Boling said. “We are now in the final stage of putting together the final product.” Design and production on the product began 14 months ago

Most of the 25 employees at Techshot are mechanical, electrical, chemical or software engineers, according to its website.

“After three decades, the excitement of developing equipment for spaceflight remains as strong as ever,” the company’s website states. “Soon we’ll see our payloads launch to the International Space Station aboard commercial ‘new space’ vehicles such as SpaceX’s Dragon.  We’re even building a payload for an upcoming flight aboard a sub-orbital vehicle such as Virgin Galactic’s Space Ship Two, Xcor Aerospace’s Lynx or Masten’s Xombie. We’re thrilled to be a part of this new golden age of spaceflight.”

Techshot co-founders, Mark Deuser and John Vellinger, are still involved in the company today. Besides Techshot Lighting, Ikotech, LLC is also a subsidiary of Techshot. Ikotech develops “magnetic cell sorting systems for use in life science applications.”