On 25 October, a specially adapted Airbus A-300 will take off from Bordeaux-Mérignac airport in France on the first of a week-long (25-29 October) campaign of parabolic flights designed to carry out experiments in weightlessness and to test instruments and equipment before they embark on a real spaceflight. These campaigns observe how technical systems and biological, chemical and physical processes function in the absence of gravity and this one, the 27th organised by the European Space Agency (ESA), will focus mainly on how the human respiratory system works and how new materials can be produced.
During a parabolic flight the aircraft performs a nose-up manoeuvre to put it into a steep climb. This creates a centrifugal force of 1.8 g (1.8 times the force of gravity on the ground) for about 20 seconds. Then the pilot reduces engine thrust to almost zero, injecting the aircraft into a parabola.
The plane continues to climb till it reaches the apex of the parabola, then it starts descending. This condition lasts for about 25 seconds, during which the passengers and all unstrapped equipment in the cabin float in the weightlessness resulting from the free fall of the aircraft. When the angle below the horizontal reaches 45°, the pilot accelerates again and pulls up the aircraft to come back to a steady horizontal flight. These manoeuvres are repeated 30 times per flight.
During the weigthlessness periods, the 28 scientists on this flight - from research institutes in six European countries and the US (*) - will carry out their work : measuring blood pressure under various conditions, monitoring a newly developed instrument or heating metals in a purpose-built furnace, in order to confirm a hypothesis, test instruments or replicate results obtained during an earlier spaceflight.
The 26 previous campaigns that ESA has conducted since 1984 have produced a total of 2650 parabolas and almost 15 hours of weightlessness, the equivalent of flying around the Earth (in low Earth orbit) nearly 10 times. A total of 360 experiments have been carried out.
With Europe and its international partners now building the International Space Station, where research will be carried on for the next 15 years, parabolic flights are crucial to the preparation of experiments, equipment and astronauts and allow scientists to have their experiments tested before they are actually flown on a space mission.
Over the coming four years, ESA will run two parabolic campaigns a year. Scientists are regularly invited to submit experiment proposals for review and selection by peers. Those whose experiments are selected have the possibility to participate in an ESA parabolic flight campaign. In each of its future campaigns, ESA will also include experiments proposed by students to encourage the scientists of tomorrow to learn all about experimention in weightlessness and the extensive research opportunities the International Space Station is going to offer.
Further information on ESA parabolic flights can be found at ESA's special parabolic flight internet pages at :
You may also contact:
ESA/ESTEC, Microgravity Payloads Division
Directorate of Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity
Tel: + 31 71 565 33 16
Fax: +31 71 565 3141
ESA Public Relations
Tel + 33 1 5369 7155
Fax. + 33 1 5369 7690
For further information on ESA visit our web site:
(*) Experiments and scientists involved in the 27th ESA parabolic flight campaign: