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Rapid Sample Transport in Austere Environments


OBJECTIVE: To develop advanced, innovative approaches for rapid sample preservation and transport in austere environments. Topic objectives include innovative technologies to enable a low-cost capability to preserve and exfiltrate small medical and environmental biological samples from austere locations and precisely deliver the sample to a pre-determined recovery area. Austere locations are defined as remote and typically inaccessible locations. This capability will be used to exfiltrate medical or environmental samples from an inaccessible area, perhaps with Chemical and/or Biological issues, to enable rapid receipt of physical samples at a laboratory analysis facility. DESCRIPTION: In austere and inaccessible environments, exfiltration of critical medical, chemical and/or biological samples can be difficult. Lack of maintained infrastructure, inaccessible or remote locations and other factors can limit the ability to transport samples from the area of interest to a location with suitable laboratory facilities. The Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) sample, which will weigh up to approximately two pounds, will need to be packaged to preserve the sample integrity, and then transported distances ranging from 50 to 1000+ miles to a point within approximately commercial Global Positioning System (GPS) levels of precision. Innovative solutions may choose to focus on part or all of this time/distance/weight performance tradespace -- for instance, lighter packages that travel shorter distances, or heavier packages that travel longer distances. At the end of the transport, the sample should be able accurately delivered (commercial GPS-levels of precision) to a pre-determined and/or in-route updated location for recovery by ship or by a ground recovery team. Transport could take as little as 1 hour or as much as 4 days from the time the sample is packaged. The system needs to provide near real-time tracking of the sample from initiation to the final delivery location. Because this system will be used in remote locations and austere environments, a self-contained set-up that can be operated by non-expert personnel after minimal training is required. For more than 50 years, researchers have defaulted to freezing biological samples at -20degreesC or -80degreesC as a means of preservation and storage. It is critical to maintain the integrity and quality of nucleic acids for use in downstream analysis. Using current standards for sample preservation via freezing and shipping with dry ice, proposed approaches would be constrained by a requirement to include in an insulated container approx 7lbs of dry ice for every 24 hours of transport time. Dry ice mass should be calculated to ensure complete sublimation will not occur prior to the package arriving at the destination site. Sublimation is the transition from solid directly to gas since it does not transition from solid to liquid to gas. Storing and preserving the quality of nucleic acids at ambient room temperature would represent a paradigm shift with significant savings in cost, environmental impact and ensured sample integrity. Innovative approaches to room temperature sample preservation may be included in the proposed approaches as a means to extend the performance envelop since this may significantly reduce the size/weight limits and the logistics for obtaining dry ice in austere environments. The proposed approach should have the following properties: 1) A basic design architecture and a crosswalk between the proposed low-cost design approach and key performance metrics to include end-to-end timeline analysis as a function of payload weight and distance. 2) A basic operational construct matched to the innovations proposed, including proposed or assumed method for sample preservation, transport, precision delivery, and near real-time tracking of the sample from initiation to the final delivery location. 3) A proposed prototype approach that would demonstrate the capability. Identification of any specific Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) associated with future capability demonstration phases to include possible use of Government test sites. PHASE I: Determine the feasibility of a low-cost rapid sample transport system for use in austere environments. Develop the initial design architecture and a proposed test event for proof-of-concept. Identify key system dependencies and assess global availability of capabilities, like the use of GPS, SATCOM, weather balloons, air corridor restrictions, etc. Develop an initial planning tool to support operational capabilities and limitations for the proposed innovation. For instance, if the proposed transport mechanism uses a low-cost balloon, then given a specific sample collection location, the tool would determine viable destination sites as a function of weather/wind limited by system range, mass, and sample viability timeline restrictions. Down-select to the most promising technologies for further testing in a realistic environment in Phase II. PHASE II: Design a prototype system that best integrates the proposed components into an optimized system, and demonstrate at least two sample transport events using two different ranges and payload weights. Update the system planning tool to incorporate initial demonstration results. PHASE III: Develop and perform two overseas field-demonstration for recovery at land and sea locations. Analyze cost-performance trade-offs for low-cost disposable and options for creation of version sets that are releasable and usable by foreign national partners while abiding by International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) restriction limitations. PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Enhancements to sample preservation and transportation have wide applications in worldwide medical surveillance, detection and response markets. Other Potential DoD Uses for Technology Innovations: this capability could also be used for the placement of small sensors or unmanned ground systems (UGS) into denied areas. In this situation, the system would be launched from friendly territory, such as a ground location or a boat, and would transport the sensor or UGS into a denied area. Once in the denied area, the system would deliver the sensor or UGS to within ten (10) meters of a desired ground or water location. The system could also be used to measure and transmit atmospheric data to provide real-time weather information via a communications link. Because one operational low-cost construct may be via the use of an altitude adjustable balloon that drifts with the wind and deploys a small guided airdrop system for final delivery, then this system could also be used to return the expensive electronic components of sondes and artillery balloons or commercial weather launch systems to allow for multiple re-uses and to collect weather during assent and descent.
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