Inauguration of drop tower demonstrator
The newly installed drop tower demonstrator in the Erasmus User Centre at ESA's research and technology centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, was used for the first time in a short inauguration ceremony last week.
On his last official working day at ESTEC, ESA's outgoing Director of Human Spaceflight, Jörg Feustel-Büechl, used the floor-level console to release the capsule from the top of the fourteen-metre tower.
"The installation of the drop tower demonstrator completes the picture of microgravity possibilities on display here in the User Centre. As a functional model it will help to familiarise potential users with Europe's drop tower facilities," said Mr Feustel-Büechl.
With its elegant woven metal structure and standing amongst scale models of other microgravity facilities; the drop tower is a welcome addition to the Erasmus User Centre.
ZARM drop tower
The demonstrator is intended to promote the use of the full-sized drop tower facility at the ZARM scientific institute in Bremen, Germany. An external ESA facility since September 2003, the 146-metre ZARM drop tower provides 4.74 seconds of weightlessness – a figure which will be doubled from the beginning of next month using a catapult system at the base of the shaft.
"The facility is not purely an exhibit, scientists and students can also come here to ESTEC and gain first-hand experience of carrying out microgravity experiments. They can use the demonstrator to work on their ideas and prepare an experiment for the ZARM drop tower" explained Dieter Isakeit, Head of the Erasmus User Centre and Communication Office.
Designed by Rob van Opdorp, the drop tower demonstrator was built by Dutch company West-End, together with Christian Eigenbrod from ZARM who provided his scientific expertise. The tower stretches over the full height of the three-storey building, providing a thirteen metre vertical drop - just under 1.5 seconds of weightlessness.
Microgravity on Earth
Experiments will be carried in the inner payload bay of the cylindrical capsule, surrounded by an aerodynamic protective outer shield. At the base of the tower, a 1.75 metre deep pit filled with PVC spheres breaks the fall of the experiment capsule.
A set of basic experiments to show physical phenomena that occur in weightlessness is now being developed. "Using freefall we can create microgravity on Earth. Through simple experiments, visitors will actually be able to see the effects of microgravity right here in the User Centre," said Massimo Sabbatini, ESA's project manager for the drop tower demonstrator. Equipment to monitor the experiments during the drop will also be available in the future.