Last week, the 72nd ESA Parabolic Flight Campaign operated by Novespace took place in Bordeaux, France. Among the twelve experiments on board the Airbus A310 AirZeroG, two were conceived by student teams in the framework of ESA Academy’s Fly Your Thesis! (FYT) programme.
One year has elapsed since teams Grain Power and PHP³ were selected by the FYT selection board. Since this period, both teams worked hard to design, manufacture, assemble and test their hardware. Being compliant to the safety requirements of Novespace is not trivial, as the experiments are to be operated in the proximity of scientists in both hypergravity and microgravity conditions.
The objective of Grain Power [Gravity Independent Powder-based 3D Printing]from DLR and Cologne TH was to test a novel powder-based 3D printing tool. Printing from powder-based substrates is relevant to in situresource utilisation scenarios whereby regolith could be used to print objects on a planetary surface in reduced gravity. Controlling powders in reduced gravity poses a plethora of concerns, safety but also with jamming of machinery as the behaviour of the particles changes considerably compared to 1G experiments. Unphased by the challenges, the team also decided to construct not one but two prototypes, in order to get twice as many results. Both printers worked in microgravity and delivered the long-awaited samples of powder products!
The PHP³ (Pulsating Heat Pipe Cubed) team from Brighton University, UK, developed a pulsating heat pipe and integrated it in a 3U CubeSat. The purpose was to test the efficiency in microgravity of this passive thermal transfer system on a very small device, and to monitor potential internally-induced torques due to the flow of fluids within the system. The team meticulously stuck to the schedule during the development phase, which provided them plenty of spare time to test and tweak the device before the flight. The three flights were a great success and the team recorded plenty of data as they gazed at their hardware free floating before their eyes.
Beyond the scientific and technical success, this campaign was full of strong emotions as people discovered the beauty of weightlessness for the first time. “What a wonderful feeling! It’s indescribable, the sensation is impossible to explain, akin to asking someone to describe the taste of chocolate”. Back to their respective countries with samples and hard drives full of data, both teams are ready to gently come back down to Earth and tackle the data analysis. ESA Academy will follow each team for another 4 months until their final report is due in March 2020.
Fly Your Thesis! – a programme worth joining
Part of ESA Academy’s Hands-On Space projects, Fly Your Thesis! is a recurring programme sponsored yearly by ESA Education. During the FYT! programme, students receive valuable feedback from ESA, Novespace, and European Low Gravity Research Association (ELGRA) experts; last but not least, they get the extraordinary opportunity to execute their experiments in microgravity conditions on-board a state-of-the-art vehicle like the Novespace Zero-G aircraft, beside experiments and teams of professional researchers. The programme enables participants to develop important practical skills through hands-on activities, as well as project management, thus developing a considerable direct experience in designing, testing, and operating their experiment hardware and software in laboratory and microgravity conditions.
As a direct consequence of the research they conducted during past FYT! campaigns, many students have so far been able to present their results at international conferences and/or to publish papers in leading scientific journals. FYT also provides opportunities to meet experts and work with them. The experience gained is an important addition to students’ curriculum vitae, and increases their chance of being elected for future professional opportunities.