It was more than just experiments that launched on two rockets from the Esrange Space Center in northern Sweden this week. For the students that built the experiments, it could also be the launch of their future careers.
The REXUS (Rocket Experiments for University Students) programme allows students from universities and higher education colleges across Europe to carry out scientific and technological experiments on research rockets. This week, REXUS 21/22 flew to the top of the Earth’s atmosphere, carrying eight student-built experiments.
After a delay of day due to bad weather in the experiment recovery zone, REXUS 21 took to the skies on 15 March at 11:43. It reached an altitude of 85.6 kilometres before falling back to Earth. It carried two experiments chosen by ESA and the Swedish National Space Board.
DREAM from Wrocław University of Technology, Poland was the DRilling Experiment for Asteroid Mining. It investigated how drills work when exposed to vacuum and the reduced gravity of space. This will be essential knowledge if we are to attempt mining asteroids for their precious metals.
"For me the biggest advantage of REXUS/BEXUS programme is that the students team can get a unique experience of managing space related project through its whole lifetime - since the idea, through the designing, building, testing and finally launching the experiment. My DREAM team carried out experiment which aim was to examine the drilling output distribution in microgravity conditions. The flight campaign was exciting and 100% successful for us. It all wouldn't be possible without all the ESA, DLR, ZARM, MORABA, SSC and SNSB experts who supported the teams. The amount of their time and enthusiasm devoted to students is incredible. I am also really happy that I met other teams - this program helps to meet so many young engineers and scientists who are just fantastic people." says Dorota Budzyń student from DREAM team.
SALACIA from Luleå University of Technology, Sweden, was the Saline Liquids and Conductivity in the Atmosphere experiment. It was designed to investigate the behaviour of salty water under conditions of low atmospheric pressure. This could help explain what looks like current water features on Mars.
"It has been such a great adventure being part of the REXUS/BEXUS programme, working on SALACIA, these last 1.5 years. It has been both fun and educational, and even stressful at times. Yet, nothing beats the feeling I think we all felt within our team, seeing our instrument take off towards the edge of space with REXUS21. I have never felt so amazed and proud!" says Elias Krantz student from SALACIA team
Two other experiments flew on the rocket. These were selected by the German Space Agency (DLR).
“It was particularly interesting to see the live video from the rocket showing the in-flight operation operation of the DREAM experiment drilling their sample in mili-gravity” says Alexander Kinnaird, Programme Coordinator, ESA Education and Knowledge Management Office.
The countdown had been halted several times because of concerns about the experiments’ readiness but initial indications are that all experiments functioned well.
A day later it was the turn of REXUS 22. It carried four experiments, of which U-PHOS (Upgraded Pulsating Heat-pipe Only for Space), University of Pisa, Italy had been chosen by ESA/SNSB. This experiment tested innovative apparatus to dissipate heat from devices. Although extensively tested on the ground, a pulsating heatpipe has never been studied in reduced gravity conditions.
‘’REXUS/BEXUS has been an incredible adventure for all the U-PHOS team: we worked together in a huge multi-disciplinary team (19 students) and we reached completely our goals, achieving incredible technical and scientific objectives. For many of us it has been the first "space experience" and it already boosted up our careers. I would like to thank the organizers, our sponsors, our professor but more than everything my wonderful team mates for making this dream real.’’ says Pietro Nannipieri student from U-PHOS team.
REXUS 22 lifted off at 14:00 and soared to 84.3 kilometres above the Earth.
Notes to editors:
The REXUS/BEXUS programme allows students from universities and higher education colleges across Europe to carry out scientific and technological experiments on research rockets and balloons. Each year, two rockets and two balloons are launched, carrying up to 20 experiments designed and built by student teams.
The REXUS/BEXUS programme is realised under a bilateral Agency Agreement between the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Swedish National Space Board (SNSB). The Swedish share of the payload has been made available to students from other European countries through a collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA). EuroLaunch, a cooperation between the Esrange Space Center of SSC and the Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA) of DLR, is responsible for the campaign management and operations of the launch vehicles. Experts from DLR, SSC, ZARM and ESA provide technical support to the student teams throughout the project. REXUS and BEXUS are launched from SSC, Esrange Space Center in northern Sweden.
REXUS experiments are launched on an unguided, spin-stabilised rocket powered by an Improved Orion Motor with 290 kg of solid propellant. It is capable of taking 40 kg of student experiment modules to an altitude of approximately 90 km. The vehicle has a length of approx. 5.6 m and a body diameter of 35.6 cm.