Multicellular animals ready for space flight. Credit: © Bernd Schierwater
7 December 2021
On December 6, 2021, at 9:07 a.m., the German Aerospace Center's (DLR) sounding rocket MAPHEUS-10 successfully launched on its parabolic flight from the European Space and Sounding Rocket Range (ESRANGE) rocket launch site in northern Sweden. On board of the eleven-meter-long, 1.7-ton rocket were seven biological and material scientific experiments. Within the 15-minute flight, it reached an altitude of 259 kilometers. After detaching the boosters, it flew an altitude parabola, producing weightlessness for six minutes during which the experiments were conducted. The payload then landed, decellerated by a parachute, and was recovered by helicopter.
On board was a newcomer: for the first time, the world's simplest multicellular organism, Trichoplax adhaerens, completed a space flight. To determine how such an organism perceives gravity, its movement behavior was microscoped during the flight. DLR scientists, together with colleagues from the Institute of Animal Ecology and Cell Biology at the Hannover University of Veterinary Medicine Foundation and LaTrobe University in Melbourne, are now evaluating the movement patterns and comparing them with control samples on the ground. The placozoan animal, which measures only about 0.5 millimeters, has specialized cells by which it perceives the direction of gravity. "Gravity is the only constant stimulus that has shaped life on Earth for billions of years. Spatial orientation is a fundamental property of many organisms and ensures survival. The underlying mechanisms is unknown in Trichoplax and is addressed with our experiment," says Dr. Jens Hauslage, a gravitational biologist at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine. A new on-board computer including a camera, environmental sensors and control system from DLR's MUSC transmitted a live stream of the animal behavior. During the flight campaign, the necessary interfaces and the ground system for receiving the live stream and other data were tested.
Two radiation measurement instruments, the M-42 detector and the EAD Mobile Unit, also developed by the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in the Radiation Biology Department, are to be used on the NASA Artemis 1 mission aboard the Orion spacecraft to measure radiation on the way to the Moon. As part of the MAPHEUS 10 flight, these devices have now undergone functional tests.
A successful experiment campaign in an impressive landscape, at -36 °C and under corona conditions, a special challenge for the scientists and technicians.
For more information on the altitude research campaign and flight, visit:
Ausflugstag in die Schwerelosigkeit für sieben Experimente
Press release of the Veterinary Medicine Foundation Hannover University:
Das einfachste vielzellige Tier fliegt ins All
The detailed description of all experiments is available for download on this page: MAPHEUS-10 Nutzlasten
Team of the MAPHEUS-10-Campagne. Credit: © DLR/Sebastian Feles