The International Space Station is a maze of modules filled with racks, cables and experiments running 24/7. Upgrading and shifting units from one place to another becomes a tricky task in space – there is no up or down, and everything is weightless.
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst has been recently busy with one of the facilities in Europe’s Columbus module. The Fluid Science Laboratory measures fluid dynamics in weightlessness.
Scientists are interested in how foams, emulsions and granular materials – materials easily deformed by thermal fluctuations and external forces – behave without the effects of gravity.
On Earth, buoyancy-driven convection and sedimentation can mask the underlying phenomena that scientists would like to observe. Without gravity, it is possible to study the samples disentangled from these processes.
After 10 years of service, it was time for the Fluid Science Laboratory to get a revamp. Alexander installed a new video management unit to record experiments for analysis on Earth. He also installed the Soft Matter Dynamics instrument, at the bottom of the unfastened Fluid Science Laboratory in this image.
This new instrument is equipped with cameras and sensors to detect very small changes in the samples with high accuracy. Soft matter is anything that can be deformed by mechanical or thermal means at room temperature.
“The instrument allows us to observe the dynamics of soft matter materials down to the microsecond,” explains Marco Braibanti, complex fluids scientists at ESA.
Soft matter research can lead to industrial applications. Many components found in food, cosmetics and pharmacy products must stay stable for long periods of time. Experiments with the Soft Matter Dynamics can help improve the stability of foams, emulsions, gels and aerosols.
With this latest upgrade the Fluid Science Laboratory is ready to receive yet another unit later in 2019: the Multiscale Boiling experiment. Scientists will study boiling phenomena and the role of various forces acting on vapour bubbles.
The Fluid Science Laboratory is one of many instruments supporting sophisticated research in Europe’s Columbus module. Celebrating its 10th year in operation, the lab is the European hub for research in life and physical sciences, space science, Earth observation and technology demonstrations on the International Space Station.
Alexander is performing many more experiments during his six month Horizons mission. Follow along for all the exciting science he’s performing via alexandergerst.esa.int and on the Horizons mission blog.