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 Igniting a solar flare in the corona with lower-atmosphere kindling
29.03.2017 | New Jersey Institute of Technology

nachricht NASA spacecraft investigate clues in radiation belts
28.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers shoot for success with simulations of laser pulse-material interactions

29.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Igniting a solar flare in the corona with lower-atmosphere kindling

29.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

As sea level rises, much of Honolulu and Waikiki vulnerable to groundwater inundation

29.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>