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Posted: Jul 11, 2012

Students to design, build experiment to fly on space station

(Nanowerk News) NASA has selected a team of students from Purdue and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State universities to design and build an experiment to be operated on the International Space Station.
The universities were chosen by NASA to create an original experiment in "capillary fluid dynamics" through the space agency's National Lab Education Projects for the International Space Station.
"This project will give students unique and in-depth, real-world, team-based, original, design-build-test educational experiences that will accelerate their learning and their careers," said Steven Collicott, the Purdue professor of aeronautics and astronautics whose students will complete the project while taking his course on zero-gravity flight experiments.
He is leading the project with John Kizito, a professor of mechanical engineering at N.C. A&T.
Purdue graduate student Samantha Alberts and professor Steven Collicott
Purdue graduate student Samantha Alberts and professor Steven Collicott discuss details of a zero-gravity flight experiment that flew this June on NASA's "vomit comet," an airplane that induces short periods of weightlessness by flying in steep parabolic maneuvers. NASA has selected a team of students from Purdue and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State universities to design and build an experiment to be operated on the International Space Station. The space station experiment, which will be designed to study the physics of how fluids change shape inside tubes in weightlessness, will be far smaller than the vomit comet hardware.
"The collaboration will expose our students - the next generation of explorers - to microgravity science and technology," Kizito said.
The experiment is part of overall work to provide data that could help in the design of systems that require the precise control of fluids and gases, such as life-support equipment and fuel tanks for spacecraft. Students will study the physics of how fluids change shape inside tubes in weightlessness. Findings also could apply to technologies for use on Earth such as fuel cells, medical instruments and miniature diagnostic devices.
Primarily undergraduate engineering students at both universities will design and build the shoebox-size experiment, develop the procedures for operation in space, train the astronauts, process the data, and write research papers describing the results.
"We anticipate the experiment becoming operational in orbit in 2014 or 2015," said Collicott, who has designed previous experiments operated on the space station and also using suborbital rockets and drop towers. "Collaborating with Dr. Kizito to lead our students in the development of an orbital experiment is an exciting step for me. His NASA experiences and his teaching and research make this a good pairing."
The project includes efforts to inspire middle school students to pursue and enjoy topics in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.
"We envision curriculum development that teaches basic STEM concepts based on the topic of the experiment," Collicott said. "A great thing about the experiment topic is that we can design desktop demonstrations that middle school teachers and students everywhere can replicate and learn from in a hands-on manner."
The effort also will include contributions from Portland State University. Other team members are professors Mark Weislogel of Portland State and Todd Kelley from Purdue, and consultant Emily CoBabe-Ammann.
About 20 Purdue undergraduate students will be involved in the project each semester over approximately three years; 10 N.C. A&T. students per semester will be directly involved and about 20 fluid mechanics students per semester will do coursework related to project.
Purdue graduate student Samantha Alberts may take a leading role in the project. She participated in a NASA-funded project that had similar goals while she was an undergraduate at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.
"That project provided invaluable research experience and directly influenced my decision to pursue graduate school at Purdue," she said.
A team of students taking the same zero-gravity flight experiments course at Purdue last semester flew an experiment in June on NASA's "vomit comet," an airplane that induces short periods of weightlessness by flying in steep parabolic maneuvers. The experiment was designed to study the physics of how fluids change shape inside tubes in weightlessness.
Since 1996, students taking Collicott's class have operated about 30 zero-gravity experiments on aircraft, and five experiments for suborbital rocket flights have been completed or are under way. Student experiments focus on spaceflight technology advancement, scientific research and exploratory topics.
Source: By Emil Venere, Purdue University
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