ESA/ESTEC - Large Diameter Centrifuge

ESA’s Large Diameter Centrifuge

With the Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) and hosted by the Life and physical sciences Instrumentation and life Support (LIS) Laboratory of ESTEC, its technical centre located in the Netherlands, a new research tool is now made available for scientists working in the different fields where artificial gravity can play a key role. This centrifuge can indeed provide a stable hypergravity environment for fundamental research on cells, plants and small animals, as well as physical science and technological experiments

Technical data

(According to the manufacturer’s specification: Zeugma Tecnologia de Sistemas Industriais SA, Portugal)

Diameter 8.0m
Number of rotor arms 4
Min. acceleration 1g
Max. acceleration (at max. radius = 4m) 20g
Min. acceleration time (1g to 20g) 60 s
Max. acceleration time (1g to 20g) No limit
Min. deceleration time (20g to 1g) – nominal mode Less than 60s
Min. deceleration time (20g to 1g) – emergency mode Within 30s
Max. deceleration time (20g to 1g) No limit
Max. number or experiment carriers – gondolas (including experiment reference gondola) 6 + 1
Gondola positions per centrifuge arm (20.5cm apart) 8
Max. payload mass per gondola 80kg
Gondola free volume (W x D x H) 600 x 600 x 800mm
Gondola inner working space (W x D x H) ~ 500 x 500 x 750mm
Gondola door clearance (W x H) 400 x 600mm

Gondola equipments to support experiments

  • 230V AC/6A socket
  • Serial data connection (RS-232
  • Ethernet connection
  • USB connection
  • Gas und (potable) water supply
  • Video out
  • "Forced” ventilation
  • Mounting plates and rails
  • Analogue input via NI-Rio controller module: input 16 x 0-10 V + 4 to be used for temperature sensors or alike

Each gondola door as well as the gondola fixation point is equipped with temperature, static accelerometer and safety lock sensors.

Scientific Applications

The LDC facility can be used for the performance of scientific experiments in a large range of research domains, such as:

  • Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Physical sciences
  • Opto-electronics
  • Material sciences
  • Fluid sciences
  • Geology
  • Plasma physics
  • Physiology

Several experiments have been already performed with this tool which operation started at the beginning of 2008.

Additional information

Graphical view of the LDC when rotating at full speed with 6 gondolas swinging out.

The centrifuge machine uses a 22 kW asynchronous servomotor from Siemens attached to a gearbox. This allows the machine to accelerate from still position to 20 g when fully loaded in less than 60 seconds. The motor control is done with a Simovert Master Drive motion control unit. The LDC main structure vibrations spectrum while in operation at 20 g (67 rpm, 1.12Hz) with six fully loaded (80 kg. each) gondolas is well within limits set for industrial machinery (with reference to the ISO-10816-3/Class standard).

The centrifuge is fully operated through a state-of-the-art PC workstation with LCD flat screeens, connected to 2 PAC (Programmable Automation Control) systems. This workstation provides easy control and monitoring of the centrifuge through different accelerometers and sensors (including temeprature). It also allows operators and scientists to run either manual or automated sequences.

Centrifuge and experimental data are both collected on the rotating part of the centrifuge by a dedicated PAC system (2 in total) and routed via a switch to the static part where a second switch is finally dispatching data over a control cabinet as well as the operations and science work stations.

All functional parameters of the LDC are monitored via the operators bench (OPS-Bench). The control station is located remotely from the centrifuge and comprises the following functions:

  • Technical operator interface for command and monitoring
  • Safety caution and warning
  • Recording of data
  • Routing of data

All experimental parameters inside the gondolas are monitored via the science operation Bench (SCI-Bench). The workstation acquires all the scientific and housekeeping data required for the scientific evaluation of the experiments.

For questions or further detailed information please contact:

The Windows-LabView based user interface can be programmed to produce any gravity profile ranging from 1 to 20g . This allows the users to freely choose adequate profiles for their experiments. Such profiles can be changed at any time during the centrifuge operation. The LDC is foreseen to perform short term as well as long term experiments up to a 6-month duration. Such a long run is indeed possible without any maintenance need for the LDC.

Any off-nominal operation regarding the LDC or the experiment can be reported to the Operator/Scientist per SMS and/or e-mail (programmable feature).

For safety reasons, the system cannot be operated when gondolas are misplaced or when doors of gondolas and of the centrifuge room are not locked. In case of a problem, the emergency procedure brings the system from 20 g to a still position in less than 30 seconds.

Finally, in addition to the LDC facility, scientists have the opportunity to access a competent team able to provide support to experiments, perform science verification and flight sequence tests, prepare biological samples for flight and ground-based experiments and analyse experiment hardware malfunctions / technological failures.

For questions or further detailed information please contact:

Robert Lindner
Head of Life and Physical Sciences Instrumentation and Life Support Section
European Space Agency
European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC)
Keplerlaan 1 - Postbus 299
2200 AG Noordwijk
The Netherlands

Email: Robert.Lindner@esa.int
Tel. +31 71 56 54 678

Students
In the framework of ESA's educational activities, the ‘Spin Your Thesis!' programme gives university students the opportunity to perform a scientific or technology experiment which is linked to their syllabus, by participating in a centrifuge campaign that provides hypergravity conditions.
Interested students should contact:

Or have a look at:

Last update: 23 January 2012

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