A Canberra company helping to develop technology to improve the health of astronauts in space has taken out a major national start-up prize.
Prism Neuro was awarded the prestigious honour of Start-Up of the Year at the Australian Space Awards earlier this month in Sydney, among a crowded list of finalists from across the country.
The start-up, which got off the ground in May 2020, has been looking into how the brain controls body movements while people are in zero-gravity, as well as examining the psychological issues faced by astronauts while in space.
Prism Neuro's chief executive and co-founder Elizabeth McGrath said she was humbled by the honour.
"It's a great accolade and we were competing in a space that is just filled with really capable companies," she said.
"The award highlights that we're serious about what we do and it allows us to open doors and work with other partners."
While the company may have only started in the past year, research in the space carried out by Prism Neuro's founders goes back more than two decades.
Dr McGrath said technology has become more accessible to make advanced sensors to detect how space affects astronauts, in a growing field known as space medicine.
"Brain control degrades when you don't have gravity because the body relies on gravity when moving to tell it where it is," she said.
"A human body in a different environment behaves differently, and we've evolved to function in 2D when we're walking on the Earth's surface with gravity.
"If you take the body out of that context and put it in low gravity and your flying upside down and moving in 3D, you're not accustomed to it."
So far, the sensors and the technology have only operated in a research environment.
However, it's hoped work can proceed to move a prototype forward to make a commercial product within the next six months.
While the technology may be designed to better understand the effects of space on astronauts, applications are already being used on Earth.
Dr McGrath said the technology can be used to help detect and prevent falls among the elderly, along with helping to identify the next generation of high-performance athletes.
"We can see the way the athlete controls their movement and see how well they can function," she said.
"We'll be able to see which athletes have better movement control and body connection so we can identify which budding athletes have the potential to rise higher."
Prism Neuro's chief executive said the award was a major step forward for the start-up, with Canberra's space industry going from strength to strength.
She said the technology being developed would have even more users in coming years, as the commercial space sector expands.
"Going forward, with future initiatives like putting people back on the Moon for extended periods of time, or even to Mars, this technology will try to reduce the effects astronauts can experience when they get there," she said.
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