University teams from Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Duisburg-Essen will send their experiments to the International Space Station
The three winning teams in the High-flyer competition have now been selected: students from the universities of Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Duisburg-Essen will send their experiments to the International Space Station (ISS) during German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst's upcoming mission in summer 2018. Designed to investigate the formation of planets and aerospace technology, the experiments will be supervised by Gerst himself on board the ISS. Eight student teams from universities across Germany qualified for the final round of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) competition.
These teams attended a two-day assessment workshop, held on 4 and 5 May at the DLR Space Administration in Bonn, during which they had the opportunity to present their proposals for experiments to an expert jury and answer their questions. "The ideas for experiments included exciting proposals on aerospace technology, biology and astrophysics," says Johannes Weppler, competition project manager at the DLR Space Administration. "So it certainly was not easy to make a selection. The winning teams now have approximately one year to design, build and test their experimental facilities." The astronaut Gerhard Thiele sat on the jury alongside experts from DLR and the German Physical Society (Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft; DPG). The criteria for appraising the proposed experiments included their scientific merit, technical maturity and practical feasibility.
How do planets form?
The winners include the student team from the University of Frankfurt am Main, who presented their experiment EXCISS (Experimental Chondrule Formation at the ISS). The students intend to use the experiment to investigate the formation of chrondules, small clumps of mineral components that are the building blocks for a special type of meteorite known as chondrites. These meteorites originate from the earliest days of planetary emergence. Over the course of the experiment, the team will observe a sand dust cloud that will be continuously exposed to lightning flashes. The energy released during these flashes causes the mineral particles to collide and bond. The results of this experiment should help to acquire a better understanding of the processes unfolding in the early phases of planetary formation.
Students from the University of Duisburg-Essen also designed an experiment to be dispatched to the ISS. Their ARISE (Planet formation due to charge induced clustering on ISS) experiment will investigate the formation of planets. It explores the role of electric discharge in the birth of new celestial bodies. Current knowledge confirms that colliding particles will attach themselves to each other up to a certain size of several centimetres in diameter. But the process of accumulation seems to halt at a certain size of particles. A new theory proposes that larger clumps are formed by electrical interaction. The students intend to observe collisions between glass beads, which simulate cosmic particles, to test the merits of this theory in a microgravity environment.
Propulsion technology for the aerospace of the future
PAPELL (Pump Application using Pulsed Electromagnets for Liquid relocation) is the name of the technology experiment by the student team from the University of Stuttgart. It investigates an innovative pump technology that could contribute to several application scenarios, including the supply of fuel on space missions. The pump uses electromagnets to transport a so-called ferrofluid, which describes a liquid containing nanoparticles of magnetic material. This means the pump operates without mechanical components, which may potentially reduce the susceptibility of malfunction, while also suppressing noise development during operation and hence improving the flight experience of astronauts inside the space vehicle. The transport of the fluid and that of small solid beads will be investigated in two separate experiments.
The High-flyers student competition
Students at all institutes of higher learning in Germany were invited to submit entries to the High-flyer competition from 14 December 2016 to 28 February 2017. During the project, the students will complete all conventional processes of a real space mission – from formulating the scientific objectives and preparing the technical design and necessary tests, through to operation of the experiment on the ISS. But there are limits on the size of the experimental set-up: they must fit into containers measuring approximately 10 x 10 x 15 centimetres. In addition, the three winning teams will be given the opportunity to witness the start of their experiment live from the ISS. All of the rigs will remain in operation on the space station for at least 30 days.
The High-flyer student competition is organised by the DLR Space Administration and supported by funds provided by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The US-American company DreamUp offers technical expertise, supports the students in designing the experiments and will handle transport of the experiments to the ISS. Experts from the DPG are assisting DLR in selecting the experiments and will contribute their know-how in many disciplines of physics research, also in later phases of the competition.