Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Extreme machine simulates space conditions

07.05.2002


Conditions in space are unlike anything we experience on Earth. Incredible extremes of temperature that can switch in an instant, startling vacuum conditions, not to mention radiation - it`s a tough life for a spacecraft. So it is essential to make sure they are prepared to withstand these conditions before they are launched into this wholly unfriendly environment.



For instance, in a vacuum, heat cannot be conducted as it is here on Earth. A spacecraft that is being heated by the Sun`s rays may, at the same time, be experiencing temperatures far below freezing on the side of its body facing away from the Sun. Similarly, when the spacecraft shifts and moves out of the sunlight altogether, the rapid drop in temperature experienced by the spacecraft would be more dramatic than putting an ice cube into a furnace. These sudden changes in temperature mean that the spacecraft has to be extremely flexible, as well as resilient, in order to cope with the inevitable expansions and contractions it will undergo as it moves in and out of the Sun`s rays.
In order to find out what it is really like out there, most of the European Space Agency`s science spacecraft are carefully loaded into an enormous simulator that is capable of creating the nearest thing to space conditions here on Earth. Looking like a giant tin can 10 metres in diameter, the Large Space Simulator, the largest of its kind in Europe, is used to inflict these extremes on the spacecraft it is testing, in order to check, recheck, and then check again, that it is up to the job.

Preparing the simulator is an extremely delicate task and has to be carried out with the utmost care. "If there is a scratch smaller than a hair`s breadth at a joint in the pipes feeding the simulator, the liquid nitrogen we use to cool the unit would leak out and the vacuum would be lost," says Philippe Sivac, a spacecraft engineer at ESA`s test centre in the Netherlands. "So there is always a moment of suspense when we first switch on."



Liquid nitrogen is perfectly suited to producing the exceptionally cold temperature required to simulate the conditions spacecraft will encounter. It is commonly used in medicine where rapid and extreme cooling is needed to preserve small and delicate items, such as living organs. But in order to simulate the freezing cold conditions of deep space, vast quantities are required. It is delivered twice a day at the test centre in an enormous tanker throughout the testing period. "We need to use 3000 litres an hour to get the temperature down to minus 190ºC, so we get deliveries of 30 000 litres at a time," says Philippe.

At the other extreme, huge and powerful lamps simulate the intensity of the Sun`s rays on the spacecraft using a light beam that is six metres in diameter. This accurately reproduces the spectrum of solar light, generating a light intensity of up to 2000 watts per square metre - similar to turning on 600 household light bulbs in a small bedroom, and temperatures quickly reach more than 130ºC.

When a spacecraft orbiting the Earth moves into an eclipse, where the Earth shields it from the Sun, its temperature will drop dramatically. In the simulator this sudden change is reproduced by turning off the lamps. The testing process has to make sure that every instrument on board the spacecraft stays within the temperature guidelines at which it can still operate, no matter what it is like outside.

Such painstaking testing procedures are necessary milestones in a spacecraft`s journey towards launch into space. Currently, the space simulator is subjecting the INTEGRAL spacecraft to the ordeal that is space - the environment it will be visiting in October 2002 when it enters its orbit around the Earth. There, it will be gathering some of the most energetic radiation that exists: gamma rays from black holes and other sources, such as supernova explosions. At least the scientists know that the spacecraft has a fighting chance against the worst conditions that space can throw at it.

Monica Talevi | alphagalileo

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Quantum optics allows us to abandon expensive lasers in spectroscopy
22.11.2017 | Lomonosov Moscow State University

nachricht Nano-watch has steady hands
22.11.2017 | University of Vienna

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Corporate coworking as a driver of innovation

22.11.2017 | Business and Finance

PPPL scientists deliver new high-resolution diagnostic to national laser facility

22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Quantum optics allows us to abandon expensive lasers in spectroscopy

22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>