'High-flyers': student experiments on the International Space Station ISS

'High-flyers' searched for and found – from 14 December 2016 to 28 February 2017 – student teams from all the universities in Germany had the opportunity to submit entries for a very special kind of competition organised by the DLR Space Administration. The top prize – the opportunity to send an experiment to the International Space Station ISS and conduct research in a space environment. In addition to experts from DLR and the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (DPG), the selection committee also included the German astronaut Gerhard Thiele. The proposed experiments were reviewed primarily to ascertain their scientific merit, technical maturity and practical feasibility. In the end, students at the universities of Frankfurt (EXCISS), Stuttgart (PAPELL) and Duisburg-Essen (ARISE) emerged victorious.

The three winning teams will send their experiments to the ISS during the horizons mission of the German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst in summer 2018. Alexander Gerst will personally supervise their experiments, which address the formation of planets and space technology. Until then, the projects will complete the entire process of a real space mission – from formulation of the scientific objectives, the preparation of a technical design and the necessary tests, to operation of the experiment on the ISS. The size of the experimental equipment is subject to severe restrictions – it must fit into a container measuring just approximately 10 by 10 by 15 centimetres. Once on the space station, each apparatus will operate for at least 30 days. The students will benefit immensely from the practical experience they acquire, as the High-flyers competition provides a qualitative complement to their studies and gives them the creative opportunity to devise and implement their own research questions. In addition, the three winning teams will be given the chance to witness the launch of their experiments live at the control centre.

How are planets created?

Among the winners is the student team from the University of Frankfurt am Main with their EXCISS (Experimental Chondrule Formation at the ISS) apparatus. Using this, the students are seeking to investigate the emergence of chondrules, small agglomerations of mineral components that are the basic building blocks for a special class of meteorites known as chondrites. These meteorites originate from the earliest phase of planet formation. During the experiment, the team will observe a cloud of very fine sand that is continuously exposed to electrical discharges. The energy released by the discharges precipitates collisions between and melting processes in the mineral particles. The findings of the experiment should help to acquire a better understanding the formation of planets.

Students at the University of Duisburg-Essen are sending another experiment on planetary formation to the ISS. The ARISE (Planet formation due to charge induced clustering on ISS) project will examine the role of electrical charges in the birth of new celestial bodies. Current knowledge confirms that colliding particles will attach themselves to each other up to a size of several centimetres in diameter, but this process of agglomeration no longer takes place once the particle sizes exceed this threshold. A new theory proposes that larger clumps are formed by electrical interactions. The students intend to observe collisions in microgravity between glass beads simulating cosmic particles to test the validity of this idea.

Propulsion technology for tomorrow's spaceflight

PAPELL (Pump Application using Pulsed Electromagnets for Liquid relocation) is the name of the technology experiment devised by the student team at the University of Stuttgart. It will investigate 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 ferrofluid, which is a liquid containing nanoparticles of magnetic material. This means the pump operates without moving parts, which may reduce its susceptibility to failure, while also reducing the noise during operation and hence improving the quality of life for astronauts living inside a space vehicle. Two experiment sections will be used to investigate transport of the fluid and also small solid spheres.


Elke Heinemann

Digital Communications
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-1852

Volker Schmid

ISS Specialist Group Leader, Head of the Cosmic Kiss Mission
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
German Space Agency at DLR
Science and Exploration
Königswinterer Straße 522-524, 53227 Bonn

Martin Fleischmann

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
German Space Agency at DLR
Communications & Media Relations
Königswinterer Straße 522-524, 53227 Bonn
Tel: +49 228 447-120