Students experiment at zero-gravity
Press release issued: 27 August 2003
A team of engineering students from Bristol University has conducted an experiment at zero-gravity on board a European Space Agency aircraft.
More than 120 students, representing universities from 15 countries, took part in the fortnight of parabolic flights, organised by the European Space Agency's Education Office.
The Bristol team's plane took off from Bordeaux-Mérignac airport and flew out high above France's Atlantic coast. There, it performed thirty-one parabolas - an aerobatic manoeuvre where the plane flies in an arc, providing about 20 seconds of weightlessness at the top of the arc in which to conduct experiments.
During these periods of weightlessness, the Bristol team tested their prototype for a new satellite called HAND, which stands for Human Activated Nanosatellite Demonstration. The design is intended to prove a stabilised satellite can be hand launched by Space Shuttle astronauts during a spacewalk.
The stick-like HAND is 1.25 m long and weighs about 6.5 kilograms. It runs off batteries that power its control unit, a test payload and a radio transmitter. To launch the satellite, the astronaut simply unfolds it (this activates the electrical power), orientates it to the right direction, starts the propulsion systems, and then releases it into space.
Once released, the HAND works entirely automatically, collecting data from its own sensors and sending it to the radio transmitter, which transmits the data on the amateur band. Its transmissions can then be picked up by amateur radio stations and decoded on personal computers.
Francesco Piraccini, who led the Bristol team, said: "The parabolic flight was an absolutely great experience. We collected enough data to provide some interesting results and we are currently working on this further."
The other team members were Matthias Schillinger, Boris Wonneberger, Per Nilsson and Mark Hoeschel.