Mission horizons - experiment at a glance

Cold Atoms Lab - new ISS lab­o­ra­to­ry for ul­tra­cold atom­ic re­search

Cold Atoms Lab - new ISS laboratory for ultracold atomic research
Cold Atoms Lab - new ISS lab­o­ra­to­ry for ul­tra­cold atom­ic re­search
Credit: NASA.

Cold Atoms Lab - new ISS laboratory for ultracold atomic research

Cold Atoms Lab - artist's im­pres­sion of the Cold Atoms Lab (CAL). The lab is a com­pact, atom chip-based fa­cil­i­ty for ex­am­in­ing ul­tra-cold quan­tum gas­es such as Bose-Ein­stein con­den­sates (BEC).

The Cold Atoms Lab (CAL) is a compact, atom chip-based facility for examining ultra-cold quantum gases such as Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC). CAL represents a new era in ISS research, as now, for the first time, fundamental physics questions can be investigated with high precision using quantum objects at almost absolute zero (-273.15 degrees Celsius). In this installation, clouds of rubidium and potassium atoms are generated, as well as mixtures of both atom types. The movement of the atoms is slowed down using pulses of laser light. These extremely decelerated atoms are trapped in an atom chip, a magnetic trap. Once the magnetic field is lowered, only the coldest and thus slowest atoms remain in the trap.

With decreasing temperature, very close to absolute zero, the atoms behave like a single 'giant atom' – a Bose-Einstein condensate has now formed. This can now be examined macroscopically. In a state of microgravity on the ISS, BECs have a lifespan of up to 20 seconds. This cannot be achieved in any laboratory on Earth. The longer the BEC can be maintained, the more accurate are the results provided by the macroscopic quantum sensor – here, the sensitivity of an atomic interferometer increases with the square of the lifespan of a BEC. The technical developments that have been strongly advanced for installations such as CAL and BECCAL mean that quantum sensors can also be used outside fundamental research, for example to control the positions of satellites, to control the distances in formation flights of a satellite swarm, or to measure the gravitational fields of Earth or other celestial bodies.

Contact
  • Elke Heinemann
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-2867
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
    Contact
  • Volker Schmid
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Ger­man Space Agen­cy at DLR
    Sci­ence and Ex­plo­ration
    Telephone: +49 228 447-305
    Königswinterer Straße 522-524
    53227 Bonn
    Contact
  • Martin Fleischmann
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Ger­man Space Agen­cy at DLR
    Strat­e­gy and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
    Telephone: +49 228 447-120
    Fax: +49 228 447-386
    Königswinterer Straße 522-524
    53227 Bonn
    Contact

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