The 36th parabolic flight campaign organised by the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is taking place from 4 to 11 June 2021 at the airport in Paderborn. During the campaign, various technology tests for the 'Cosmic Kiss' mission to be flown by German ESA astronaut Matthias Mauer will be carried out under microgravity conditions, as well as other experiments. The technology tests are 'Retinal Diagnostics' for astronaut eye health and 'Thermo-Mini' for measuring human body temperature during space missions. Maurer will launch to the International Space Station (ISS) in autumn 2021. "In addition to the two technology tests, there are once again many exciting research topics on the parabolic flights," says Katrin Stang, Parabolic Flight Programme Manager for the German Space Agency at DLR "We have eight experiments from the fields of human physiology, technology and physics on board."
Retinal Diagnostics and Thermo-Mini – healthcare during space missions
Among the technology tests that Matthias Maurer will conduct during his mission on the ISS is 'Retinal Diagnostics', a research project on the eye health of astronauts from the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne. An alteration of the optic nerves is one of the most serious changes that someone can experience on a space flight. In the experiment on the ISS, the optic nerve head of an astronaut will be monitored by means of a very small, lightweight camera for preventive and diagnostic purposes. This should make it possible to track changes and also to determine the effectiveness of any countermeasures that are employed. In future, with the help of artificial intelligence, the device will be able to determine whether such a change is taking place in an astronaut's eye.
Another technology test for the 'Cosmic Kiss' mission is 'Thermo-Mini'. This system can be used to continuously record the core body temperature of a human. To date, it has been established that staying in space and the activities carried out there can lead to a significant and even harmful increase in core body temperature. The exact causes of this are still unknown but the rise in temperature poses a potential danger to astronauts. The miniaturised hardware can be worn comfortably as a headband. During the parabolic flights, the new model will be tested solely for the correct functioning of its technology.
Gender-specific medicine with the STRONG experiment
With the STRONG project, a team of scientists from the LMU Klinikum in Munich is conducting an experiment related to gender sensitivity in medicine, which considers gender-specific differences in everyday medical practice. This branch of research aims to change the common practice in which medicines, medical diagnoses and treatment approaches are primarily oriented towards male patients.
The LMU Klinikum team has previously investigated the stress reactions of male participants during a parabolic flight, resulting from the change of their apparent weight from that experienced on Earth to that in gravity that is twice as strong and in microgravity. With the STRONG experiment, the scientists are now specifically investigating hormonal and immunological reactions in the female body to the stress caused by altered gravity conditions.
German-French cooperation on TEKUS
As part of a German-French cooperation, experiments are being carried out in the TEKUS project to investigate heat and mass transport in a fluid under microgravity conditions. Scientists from the University of Cottbus in Germany and the University of Le Havre in France are creating a controlled flow in a fluid by applying an electric field and a temperature difference. The findings from the experiments can be used, for example, to optimise heat exchangers. While gravity-driven flow movements interfere with investigations on Earth, the effects can be observed undisturbed under microgravity conditions during parabolic flight and then compared with computer models. The experiments will be carried out using a new type of measurement technology and represent important preliminary investigations for another experiment that will fly on the TEXUS-57 sounding rocket in autumn 2021.
The next DLR parabolic flight campaign will take place from 14 to 24 July 2021 at the airport in Paderborn with 10 experiments from the fields of human physiology, biology, physics, materials science and technology.
DLR parabolic flights
Since 1999, the German Space Agency at DLR has organised regular parabolic flights for biological, physiological, physical, technological and materials science research. The research aircraft, the A310 ZERO-G operated by the French company Novespace, is used once or twice a year for scientific campaigns run by DLR, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the French space agency CNES (Centre national d’études spatiales). A DLR parabolic flight campaign usually consists of three flight days with approximately four flight hours each day, during which 31 parabolas are flown. During each parabola, microgravity conditions prevail for approximately 22 seconds. In total, there are around 35 minutes of microgravity during a flight campaign – in between periods of normal gravitational acceleration and acceleration almost twice as great – which researchers can use for their experiments. Up to 40 scientists can take part in a flight, with between 10 and 13 experiments on board.