ESA’s parabolic flight project coordinator Neil Melville explains why 40 researchers working on 12 technologically-advanced experiments are put in an aircraft that flies at maximum thrust in repeated 50° angles at the limits of the Novespace aircraft’s design.
Parabolic flights offer sessions of 20 seconds of zero gravity giving a total of 10 minutes of weightlessness each flight. The advantage of parabolic flights over other platforms for experimentation in altered gravity is that researchers can join the flight and interact with their experiment – fine tuning hardware, running tests on human subjects or changing parameters on the fly. The experiments are carefully chosen for potential benefits, safety and uniqueness.
Neil highlights some of the experiments on ESA’s 72nd campaign that covered disciplines as diverse as astronomy, cooling techniques, metallurgy, weather and human physiology.
The Progra2 experiment is creating clouds of matter and recording how light is scattered by micrometre-sized particles. The carbon-based dust is chosen to resemble the clouds found in our Solar System such as around asteroids and comets. Knowing how light is scattered by these particles in microgravity will help interpret observations made from telescopes and increase our understanding the Universe.
An experiment from the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium is looking at healing wounds with bio-mimetic materialsby submitting them to mechanical stresses typical in weightlessness. The knowledge acquired will pave the way for the development of biophysical models and a have a direct impact on the industrial market of wearable electronics.
The VIP-GRAN team is looking into how particles behave in reduced gravity to understand the underlying physics in detail. On this flight they investigated the jamming of particles as they flow through small openings. This can be an annoyance on Earth when salt gets stuck in the shaker for example, but the phenomenon is influenced by gravity and the researchers want to know more. This was the ninth flight for the VIP-GRAN team and who are working towards having a version of their experiment fly on the International Space Station with even more weightless time.
Air Zero-G exterior footage courtesy of Airborne Films and Novespace.