The ICAPS experiment is a 1.2-m-long module that houses the vacuum chamber, an injector of silica particles, and cameras to observe their interaction. The experiment has ‘flown’ with promising results in the ZARM drop tower in Bremen, Germany, but scientists want to observe the process for longer.
Drop tower experiments allow for up to nine seconds of microgravity whereas sounding rockets will allow researchers to watch up to six minutes of planet formation in progress.
The experiment aims to simulate growth of micrometre-sized particles – similar in size to talcum powder – to millimetre-sized aggregates and investigate the physical phenomenon of Brownian motion. This process is believed to be the main mechanism of how “planet embryos” evolved in the young Solar System.