Maser-14 sounding rocket experiment overview. The Maser-14 sounding rocket will launch two ESA experiments to an altitude of 260 km to provide six minutes of weightlessness as they free-fall back to Earth.
Rockets carrying satellites into orbit are typically launched from sites around the equator, such as Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. There are alternatives for experiments in microgravity and ESA runs Maser campaigns from the Esrange Space Center in Sweden, shooting 400 kg worth of scientific equipment into the sky.
This campaign will host investigations looking at the finer details of metal casting and how fluids evaporate.
It only takes the Maser rocket 45 seconds to leave the atmosphere and it lands back on Earth in less than 15 minutes. Parachutes deploy to lessen the impact of touchdown to 30 km/h in the wilderness of Sweden.
Antonio Verga, ESA’s head of non-Space Station payloads and platforms, says “Helicopters will return the experiments to Esrange and the whole process will be completed in two hours, but the unique results typically give many years of data to process and analyse!”
The flights are part of ESA’s SciSpace programme that allows researchers to run experiments in altered gravity – from hypergravity to the International Space Station – to investigate our Universe and improve the technology we use in space and in everyday life. Another sounding rocket campaign will be held in October this year.
Another platform for microgravity experimentation is the Space Rider laboratory. To be launched on a Vega-C rocket, the high-tech space lab can fit up to 800 kg of payloads inside the environmentally controlled cargo bay that will run in low-Earth orbit for a minimum of two months before returning to Earth.
Like sounding rockets, Space Rider will enable a range of experiments in microgravity and open opportunities for educational missions, starting in 2022.