ESA centrifuge opens door to high-gravity worlds

Oct 03, 2011
The LDC carrying one of the student's experiments. Credits: ESA

Astronauts' jobs sometimes weigh heavy on them: crews returning from space briefly endure ‘g-loading’ more than four times Earth normal. Scientists interested in hypergravity need to create it for minutes, days or even weeks at a time. Fortunately, ESA’s Large Diameter Centrifuge does just that.

Based at ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the is designed not for astronaut training but for research. Jointly financed by ESA and the Dutch government, the centrifuge is available for a variety of applications.

“People propose all kinds of experiments – we assess them for scientific relevance, feasibility and safety,” explained ESA’s Jutta Krause.

“We perform physical, biological, geological and even astrogeological tests – one team investigated how crater impacts vary under higher gravity.  

“In addition, the centrifuge is open for industrial users to test and qualify hardware.”

“Last week, we hosted student teams from the latest round of ‘Spin your Thesis’, organised through ESA’s Education Office.”

The 8 m-diameter centrifuge can create up to 20 g, with four gondolas holding up to 80 kg of experiments.
 

ESA Large Diameter Ceentrifuge facility at ESTEC. Credits: ESA

Two more gondolas can be attached half way along the arm to provide different g-levels at the same time.

“Experiments can be spun for up to six months at a time non-stop, at changing g-profiles if needed,” Jutta added. “After that, we have to stop for routine maintenance.”

Students testing water drops and plant roots
 
The latest Spin your Thesis campaign took place in September, following an earlier campaign in June. Another team will run their experiment at the end of November.

Student teams are selected to take part by experts from ESA and the European Low Gravity Research Association.

The ‘HyperDrop’ team from the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium and Politecnico de Milano in Italy investigated how liquid droplets on a solid surface change shape as gravity shifts.

“We’re interested in measuring changes to the angle of the droplets where their outside edge meets air,” explained Dmitry Zaitsev of HyperDrop.

“We’re performing 15-minute experiments across seven different g rates with liquids on various surfaces.

“It’s fairly fundamental research, but also has some practical applications. Spraying droplets onto surfaces is widely used in industry for cooling.

“For instance, it is employed in some Formula One cars – they are subjected to very high accelerations while racing.”

A second team, HyperMEA from the University of Florence in Italy, employed sophisticated electrical devices normally used in neurological studies to detect how maize roots respond to gravity shifts.

“Our samples begin with four hours spinning at 2 g, then move up to 5 g for one to two hours,” commented Elisa Masi of HyperMEA.

“The actual electrical effects involved are very small, so require around a day of analysis per single run.

“We’re interested in the pattern of plant response to stress although there might one day be practical uses, such as helping with plant cultivation in space.”

“Each team gets half a week when they are free to use the centrifuge as they wish,” said Francesco Emma of ESA’s Education Office.
 
“This flexible access has already led to a number of studies submitted to scientific journals.”

The call for proposals for 2012’s Spin your Thesis campaign will close on 12 December. To find out more please check the right hand link.

Explore further: Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Exploring an asteroid with the Desert RATS

Sep 23, 2011

Earlier this month, European scientists linked up with astronauts roaming over the surface of an asteroid. Desert RATS, NASA’s realistic simulation of a future mission, this year included a European dimension ...

Hylas-1 ready for service

Mar 25, 2011

It’s all systems go for Hylas-1, the first satellite created specifically to deliver broadband access to European consumers. Since its launch in November, Hylas has performed well throughout its testing ...

The kids are alright

May 26, 2011

Children should be seen and not heard... who says? A Philosophy academic at The University of Nottingham is challenging the adage by teaching primary school children to argue properly.

Cleaning up with space tech

Sep 07, 2011

There’s just about nowhere that state-of-the-art space technologies cannot reach – from the martian atmosphere to those hard-to-clean spots under the couch. The search for space dust is giving us ...

Looking at the volatile side of the Moon

Jun 01, 2011

Four decades after the first Moon landing, our only natural satellite remains a fascinating enigma. Specialists from Europe and the US have been looking at ESA’s proposed Lunar Lander mission to find ...

Education trumps regulation

Aug 05, 2011

A University of Alberta study shows that simply educating farmers about the hazards of pesticides can reduce their chance of usage by nine per cent.

Recommended for you

Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

17 hours ago

The work of a research leader at Michigan Technological University is attracting attention from Michigan's Governor as well as automotive companies around the world. Xiaodi "Scott" Huang of Michigan Tech's ...

Large streams of data warn cars, banks and oil drillers

Apr 16, 2014

Better warning systems that alert motorists to a collision, make banks aware of the risk of losses on bad customers, and tell oil companies about potential problems with new drilling. This is the aim of AMIDST, the EU project ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Short bloke
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2011
There is gravity and gravitation and matters property of inertia, all of which have their specific individual properties. Rapid mechanical induced changes of direction may simulate gravity, even so, there the similarity ends except for the phenomenon we refer to as weight; so why the implied reference to gravity. Surely, a reference to an application of constant force by a centrifuge would be less misguiding.

More news stories

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...