School of Sport and Health Sciences

a smiling researcher in the lab

Researchers prepare for zero gravity to put experimental devices through their paces

Staff and students from the School of Sport and Health Sciences, School of Architecture, Technology and Engineering, Centre for Regenerative Medicines and Devices and Advanced Engineering Centre conducted a dry run for experiments this week in preparation for the parabolic flights later this month.  

Prof Debra Humphris being shown equipment

Dr Nicolas Miche, Professor Debra Humphris and student Erin Saltmarsh inspect the DEPLOY! equipment.

Teams from both the Gell-P and DEPLOY! Projects, including seasoned parabolic flyer and Principal Lecturer Dr Nicolas Miche, a mentor for the first European Low Gravity Research Association mentoring scheme (ELGRA), gathered in the Advanced Engineering Building to go through tightly choreographed tasks in preparation for the flights at the end of the month. On the flights each team will have a few seconds of weightlessness at a time to conduct their experiments.

The teams will be travelling to the Novespace centre in Bordeaux next week with flights later in November. After climbing to an altitude of 7,500m, the aircraft will go into a 3,000m high rollercoaster climb and fall, during which weightlessness will be experienced for about 20 seconds; this will happen 30 times in each of the three planned flights.

Nicolas, who has taken part in several flights, stressed the importance of the run through: “There is very little time, so you have to have clear delegation and know who is doing what.” He says that the feeling of weightlessness takes some getting used to: “It’s something that is not comparable to anything else you will experience. It is the most extreme feeling you will ever have; it’s very peaceful and detached.”

the seven members of the team pictures with VC Professor Debra Humphris

Back row, left to right: Dr Anastasios Georgoulas, Professor Matteo Santin, Vice-Chancellor Professor Debra Humphris, Dr Nicolas Miché, Dr Marco Bernagozzi. Front, left to right: Rachel Forss, Justine Tansley, Simon Cahill.

The GELL-P project, led by Rachel Forss from the School of Sport and Health Sciences and the Centre for Regenerative Medicines and Devices, will use the flight to conduct experiments to assess how weightlessness impacts the circulation to the lower leg.

The project, funded by the UK Space Agency, will help future space missions predict the effect of hyper gravity conditions experienced by people such as astronauts, fighter pilots and racing car drivers on lower limbs. Outcomes could also have a more down to earth application with the assessments for patients in healthcare settings.

Rachel says that, with space tourism now a realistic prospect, knowledge about zero gravity’s impact on the body is important: “We need to work out what goes on in the body and whether this type of equipment will work well in this kind of setting.”

two of the researchers holding University of Brighton bears

Dr Nicolas Miché and Erin Saltmarsh.

The DEPLOY! project focuses on the dynamic deployment of a novel satellite radiator panel thermal interface using a flexible Pulsating Heat Pipe. The device is unique due to its flexibility, which means that it can be deployed in three different positions and can be folded back against the space vehicle, much like the wing mirrors on a car, minimising the risk of damage from space debris. If successful, the technology could be used for space vehicles such as satellites. Funding for the project is provided by the ESA Academy Experiments programme, which provides funding and support for university students to develop their research in the fields of space science and technology with additional funding by the UK Space Agency.

The project is a collaboration between the universities of Brighton, Pisa and Parma. The project team consists of six students, mentored by experts at participating universities, including the University of Brighton Aeronautical Engineering MEng student Erin Saltmarsh.

Erin joined the team following a lecture about the project by Dr Miche who introduced her to DEPLOY! team leader Alessandro Billi, an aerospace engineer at the University of Pisa.

Usually those who take part on these flights are experienced researchers so for Erin to take part is particularly special. She says: “When I started my degree, I never expected to be doing a parabolic flight. I’m excited and nervous, it’s an incredible chance and I’ve learned so much from being part of it.”

Kerry Burnett • 17/11/2023

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