Aboard the International Space Station, Don Petit uses knitting needles to demonstrate the effect of static electricity on water droplets in microgravity.
The following video shows a simple combustion experiment, the development of a candle flame in microgravity, aboard the Russian Mir space station.
The following video from NASA Glenn Research Center explains the phenomenon seen in this experiment and the difference between candle flames in one gravity and microgravity.
In this video, International Space Station science officer Don Petit uses an inexpensive speaker to demonstrate the effects of acoustical energy on water in a microgravity environment.
Once again, this is an experiment that could be replicated on a suborbital flight. A possible variation on this experiment would be to substitute another type of liquid in place of water.
The following videos show a similar, Earth-bound experiment using a non-Newtonian fluid (a mixture of cornstarch and water). This mixture displays a property called sheer thickening. Don Petit did not have cornstarch aboard the International Space Station, so this was not an option available to him, but it’s something that could be done by a citizen scientist on one of our flight opportunities:
Another science experiment from NASA astronaut Don Petit, which could serve as a starting point for developing a suborbital experiment.
A microscope is a potentially useful piece of hardware for microgravity experiments. There’s a wide range of small USB microscopes on the market, at price points from under $100 to several hundred dollars. Unfortunately, these microscopes are generally designed to use a Windows or Macintosh computer for data capture, which is a problem for our purposes.
Linux compatibility means the microscope could be used with a small single-board Linux computer such as the $40 Raspberry Pi or the slightly more expensive but more powerful BeagleBone, either of which will fit within the CubeSat form factor.
The Adafruit USB microscope sells for $80, so it’s not a high-end microscope by any means, but it may be good enough for many purposes. It is probable that other USB microscopes can be made to work with Linux as well. For right now, this is a start.
NASA astronaut Don Petit performs a simple microgravity experiment using Alka Seltzer aboard the International Space Station.
This experiment could easily be duplicated on a suborbital flight. One possible variation on the experiment might use dry ice instead of Alka Seltzer as a carbon dioxide source.
This video shows a simple fluid experiment aboard NASA’s DC-9 Weightless Wonder aircraft.
In 1996, fluid mechanics scientist, Dr. Mark Weislogel, performed 50 water-balloon experiments during a four-day flight campaign aboard the DC-9 at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. More information on the experiments is available at http://spaceflightsystems.grc.nasa.gov/WaterBalloon and at http://microgravity.grc.nasa.gov/balloon/HS.HTM.
Although these flights are commonly described as “zero gravity,” that is not strictly accurate. Because of limitations on the precision of the parabolic trajectory, occupants do experience some residual gravity. The preferred term is “microgravity,” although that is not strictly accurate, either.
The residual gravity experienced on the best parabolic flights is typically +/-0.2g. So, technically, these should be called centigravity flights. No one uses that term, though, so don’t do it unless you want to sound like Sheldon on “Big Bang Theory.”
Because they fly above atmospheric disturbances, suborbital spacecraft will be able to achieve microgravity levels that are more than 100 times better.
Here’s another water-balloon video. This one was shot by astronaut Don Petit aboard the International Space Station:
This is the first in a series of posts that will suggest some experiments we’d like to see citizen scientists build for our suborbital flights.
NASA performed a soldering experiment aboard the International Space Station on five occasions between April 2003 and April 2005, producing a total of 86 samples. The following video shows ISS science officer Mike Fincke performing the soldering experiment during Expedition 9 in 2004.
Soldering will be an important technique for repairing future spacecraft and systems, in orbit and at future destinations such as the Moon and Mars. On Earth, gas bubbles can cause the formation of pores that reduce the strength of a solder joint. In microgravity, these pores are more likely because gas bubbles have less chance to escape. Principal Investigator Richard Grugel of NASA Mashall Space Flight Center wanted to study the formation of solder joints, by video recording and examination of samples returned to Earth.
In this video, as the solder is heated, it becomes a molten blob with a droplet of rosin clinging tight to the outside. Then, as the temperature rises, the droplet starts to spin – a completely unexpected result.
The In-Space Soldering Investigation (ISSI) was developed after the Columbia accident as a cheap, quick experiment the astronauts could do with hardware that was already present aboard the space station. It was followed by the Reduced Gravity Soldering Experiment on Expedition 14 (September 2006 – April 2007) and the Component Repair Experiment on Expedition 18 (October 2008 – April 2009).
ISSI is an example of a low-cost experiment that can be done by humans in space but could also be automated easily. It may not be possible to do a complete component-repair experiment on a suborbital flight, but suborbital spacecraft could provide a great platform for studying the basic behavior of solder in microgravity without the cost and complexity of an ISS mission.
We’d like to see someone perform a solder experiment as one of our citizen-science payloads. (See our Call for Experiments.) One possible improvement over the original design might be better video imaging.
We think it might be interesting to observe the behavior of the solder using high-speed video. High-speed video cameras are usually very expensive and fairly large, but Casio has developed a series of inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras with rather remarkable high-speed video modes. The model numbers and features change slightly from year to year. Current models are the Casio Exilim ZR-10 and Exilim ZR-100. These cameras list for $249 and $299, respectively, but generally sell for a little over $200 online. Older models such as the Exilim FC150 are also available through sources such as Ebay, and Casio just recently introduced the ZR-200 and ZR-300.
In addition to standard and high-definition video at 30 frames per second (fps), the EX-ZR10 can record 240-fps video at 432×320-pixel resolution and 480-fps video at 224×160.The EX-ZR100 has the same video modes plus 1000-fps at 224×64-pixel resolution. The 1000-fps video image is tiny but the 240- and even 480-fps videos look like they might be quite useful.
The new EX-ZR200 can record 120-fps video at 640×480-pixel resolution, 240-fps video at 512×384, 480-fps video at 224×160, and 1000-fps video at 223×64. Details on the EX-ZR300 (not yet available in North America) are sparse but video modes are expected to be similar to the EX-ZR200.
In burst mode, the cameras are capable of shooting full-resolution still images (12 megapixels for the EX-ZR10 and EX-ZR100, 16 megapixels for the EX-ZR-200) at speeds of up to 30 fps.
Another useful feature these cameras provide, for citizen-science experimenters, is excellent close-focusing capability. The EX-ZR10 is capable of macro focusing at distances as close as 2 centimeters, while the EX-ZR100 and EX-ZR-200 can go as close as 1 centimeter.
So, there are a lot of imaging options to choose from with these cameras. Unfortunately, high-speed video and burst photography will fill up the camera’s buffer quite rapidly, so the shooting time at these speeds is quite limited. That means the experimenter will need some way to trigger the camera at the proper time. This could be done mechanically, with a mechanism that presses the camera’s shutter button, or electronically by hacking into the camera’s trigger circuit.
Lighting must be provided also. High-speed video requires lots of light because the shutter is necessarily open for a very brief period of time, and of course, the experiment will be in a closed box. The specifications for the new ZX-ZR-200 show higher ISO ratings, so it might have an advantage there, but camera noise can be a problem at high ISO ratings (although manufacturers are working hard to improve it).
Here are some references you can look at, if you’d like to work on this experiment:
Nanoracks has a new product: an external platform that allows customers to place small payloads on the exterior of the International Space Station.