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 Artificial Intelligence Helps in the Discovery of New Materials
21.09.2016 | Universität Basel

nachricht Magnetic polaron imaged for the first time
19.09.2016 | Aalto University

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: OLED microdisplays in data glasses for improved human-machine interaction

The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.

“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...

Im Focus: Artificial Intelligence Helps in the Discovery of New Materials

With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...

Im Focus: Complex hardmetal tools out of the 3D printer

For the first time, Fraunhofer IKTS shows additively manufactured hardmetal tools at WorldPM 2016 in Hamburg. Mechanical, chemical as well as a high heat resistance and extreme hardness are required from tools that are used in mechanical and automotive engineering or in plastics and building materials industry. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden managed the production of complex hardmetal tools via 3D printing in a quality that are in no way inferior to conventionally produced high-performance tools.

Fraunhofer IKTS counts decades of proven expertise in the development of hardmetals. To date, reliable cutting, drilling, pressing and stamping tools made of...

Im Focus: Launch of New Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing

At AKL’16, the International Laser Technology Congress held in May this year, interest in the topic of process control was greater than expected. Appropriately, the event was also used to launch the Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing. The group provides a forum for representatives from industry and research to initiate pre-competitive projects and discuss issues such as standards, potential cost savings and feasibility.

In the age of industry 4.0, laser technology is firmly established within manufacturing. A wide variety of laser techniques – from USP ablation and additive...

Im Focus: New laser joining technologies at ‘K 2016’ trade fair

Every three years, the plastics industry gathers at K, the international trade fair for plastics and rubber in Düsseldorf. The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will also be attending again and presenting many innovative technologies, such as for joining plastics and metals using ultrashort pulse lasers. From October 19 to 26, you can find the Fraunhofer ILT at the joint Fraunhofer booth SC01 in Hall 7.

K is the world’s largest trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry. As in previous years, the organizers are expecting 3,000 exhibitors and more than...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Experts from industry and academia discuss the future mobile telecommunications standard 5G

23.09.2016 | Event News

ICPE in Graz for the seventh time

20.09.2016 | Event News

Using mathematical models to understand our brain

16.09.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Chains of nanogold – forged with atomic precision

23.09.2016 | Life Sciences

New leukemia treatment offers hope

23.09.2016 | Health and Medicine

Self-assembled nanostructures hit their target

23.09.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>