Researchers practice for zero gravity flight to put ground-breaking experimental devices through their paces
The University of Brighton teams, including Aerospace Engineering MEng student Erin Saltmarsh, will have just 20 seconds at a time to run tasks in weightless conditions.
During each flight the plane will climb to an altitude of 7,500m before the aircraft goes into a 3000m high roller coaster 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. Not surprisingly teams will be given anti-nausea jabs prior to the flights. Staff and students from the Schools of Architecture,Technology and Engineering, School of Sport and Health Sciences, Centre for Regenerative Medicines and Devices and Advanced Engineering Centre representing the Gell-P and DEPLOY! Projects gathered to go through a series of tightly choreographed tasks in preparation for the flights at the end of the month.
Principal Lecturer Dr Nicolas Miche, a mentor for the first European Low Gravity Research Association mentoring scheme (ELGRA) has taken part in several previous 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.”
After the run through the equipment will be packed up before the crew embark for France next week.
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 Aerospace Engineering MEng student Erin.
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.”