Engineering at the University of Brighton

Team photo of PHP Cubed

Brighton students take to zero gravity

Our team of engineering students successfully tested their trailblazing technology in zero-gravity conditions in Bordeaux.

PHP Cubed – Georgie Crewdson, Tom Critchley, Matteo Pontecorvo, Liam Ardagh and Alex Evans – were one of only two student teams to travel to Bordeaux as part of the European Space Agency’s ‘Fly Your Thesis!’ competition.

The team’s experiments took place on a on a specially modified zero-gravity Airbus A310 flight at Novespace, a subsidiary of the French National Centre for Space Studies.

This parabolic flight allows researchers to interact with their experiments in a weightless environment, simulating the conditions of outer space.

Throughout the week the graduates tested their novel passive heat management system, scaled down for a nanosatellite application. This system enables sensitive components to be cooled and temperatures to be managed without the need for a power supply or moving parts – a crucial factor in reducing weight and size in nanosatellites that can weigh as little as one kilogram.

The next step for the team is to analyse and process the data they garnered in Bordeaux.

PHP Cubed’s research has been supported by the multiphase thermofluids team at the University of Brighton’s Advanced Engineering Centre over the last 18 months. The University’s crowdfunding platform Springboard enabled the team to raise money for materials for their innovative experiment.

Reflecting on the week in Bordeaux, Liam said: “The experience has been amazing and the feeling of being in zero-gravity is both completely indescribable and immediately the most natural feeling.

“The experiment has been very successful, and all of the flights recorded data for every parabola. Both Novespace and ESA Academy are very happy with what we have achieved over the past week and throughout the campaign.”

Mateo added: “Having now taken part in the ESA 72nd parabolic flight campaign and successfully completed all the tests, I still cannot find words to describe the experience. It was something truly extraordinary and I feel honoured and privileged to have been a part of it.”

In Bordeaux, Georgie also acted as a test subject for a neurologist team sampling the effect of microgravity on moto neurone activity. She said that meeting other research groups – including Grain Power, the only other student team in Bordeaux – was a rewarding by-product of PHP Cubed’s time in France.

“Not only has this trip allowed us to test our technology in microgravity after 18 months of hard work, it has also enabled us to meet with some incredible research groups across Europe,” she said.

“Grain Power, for instance, successfully printed samples from their microgravity printer using only powder. This potentially contributes to a solution to 3D printing in space and we are extremely proud to have witnessed their progress first-hand.”

Dr Nicholas Miche, Principal Lecturer of the School of Computing, Engineering and Maths, accompanied PHP Cubed on the trip. He said: “After 18 months of intense extra-curricular work, the project has reached its pinnacle and not only high quality data has been collected during the campaign but also a lifetime of memories and happiness.

“What an adventure! I’m so proud and privileged to have followed and witnessed the journey and success of our engineering students. Next step, data processing and conclusions of the investigation.”

Stephanie Thomson • December 3, 2019

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