ESA and UN offer students chance to conduct hypergravity experiments

2 Sep 2021

Large Diameter Centrifuge at full speed. Image: A Le Floc’h /ESA

Successful applicants will get access to an ESA centrifuge capable of simulating gravity that is 20 times stronger than that on Earth.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) have teamed up to offer students the chance to perform hypergravity experiments as part of the HyperGES fellowship. This is the second round of the programme, which is part of the Access to Space For All Initiative.

Successful applicants will receive access to the ESA’s ESTEC Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) in the Netherlands. The LDC is a piece of equipment capable of creating conditions where gravity is up to 20 times the levels here on Earth. The apparatus is capable of sustaining these conditions for weeks or months at a time.

When it is rotating at its maximum, the centrifuge completes 67 revolutions every minute. With six gondolas capable of supporting 80kg each, the 8m-wide device offers researchers a unique chance to conduct experiments in a range of different conditions.

This is used by the ESA to see how candidate spacecraft materials will respond to the violent conditions associated with launching into space.

“We are proud to be part of UNOOSA Access to Space for All Initiative. In ESTEC, we have about 35 research laboratories that allow industry and scientists to achieve their research goals,” said ESA director of technology, engineering and quality Franco Ongaro.

“We thank UNOOSA for extending access to the centrifuge, operating as an important element of these laboratories, to the rest of the world as well. We look forward to the results of the HyperGES Announcement of Opportunity.”

Students from all over the world are invited to apply to this round of HyperGES, with particular encouragement directed at students from developing countries. Applications will remain open until 28 February 2022.

As part of the hypergravity programme, UNOOSA hosted a series of free, online webinars describing the applications of hypergravity for research and development. Topics included biology, physiology, materials science and fluid dynamics.

The first group of successful student applicants came from Mahidol University in Thailand. These students proposed researching the response of watermeal, the smallest flowering plant on Earth, to changing gravity levels. The team hoped that this could contribute in assessing the usefulness of space-based life support systems.

UNOOSA director Simonetta Di Pippo said: “Owing to the joint work of the office and its partners, the Access to Space for All Initiative is playing a key role to bridge the space divide. By providing access to cutting-edge facilities such as the Large Diameter Centrifuge to all member states of the United Nations, ESA is reaffirming its commitment as partner in the Access to Space for All Initiative.

“I am particularly keen and excited to see potential results and distinctive applications which can contribute to the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Sam Cox was a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news