Space is synonymous with weightlessness, but changing variables both ways in an experiment – up and down – is the best way to tease out the secrets of the inner workings of physics and nature.
It shouldn’t be surprising then that ESA has a centrifuge for hypergravity experiments. With a full range of gravity levels at their disposal, gravity becomes just another variable for scientists in the laboratory.
The Large Diameter Centrifuge at ESA’s technical heart, ESTEC, can spin at 67 revolutions a minute to recreate gravity 20 times more than we feel on Earth. The four arms can carry up to eight experiments of up to 80 kg each to spin under different gravity levels.
Long-during projects can even be left spinning for six months to examine, for example, how a plant would grow on Mars or other larger planets.
Aside from physical science and technological experiments, the centrifuge can put cells, plants and even small animals under hypergravity. The range of scientific research that can benefit from hypergravity includes biology, biochemistry, microbiology, opto-physics, material and fluid sciences, geology and plasma physics.
The experiments can be powered and connections run back to the control centre for continuous monitoring, including video.
Researchers interested in adding weight to their experiments can submit proposals at any time. For students, ESA runs a yearly ‘Spin Your Thesis!’ programme. Four teams of two to four students can take their experiments for a spin.
Spin Your Thesis! is a great opportunity for students to conduct experiments in hypergravity. The results can be published in papers and journals, and be presented at international conferences. University students are encouraged to apply.