EANA: Experiments on the ISS

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Experiments on the ISS

Original article On Station September 2003

Material Sciences

A large number of proposals targets MSL in the US Destiny module. The various MSL furnaces will be used to study material properties and details of solidification and casting processes for various materials such as alloys and semiconductors. It is interesting to see large, trans-national teams combining their efforts in this area, which has important applications in industrial processing and the development of new materials. In the future, the IMPRESS proposal submitted by ESA to the European Commission will also make extensive use of MSL, for example, to develop new materials for more efficient turbine blades in aircraft and power plants.

The Protein Crystallisation Diagnostics Facility (PCDF) will be EDR's first payload, to tackle the problems of protein crystallisation in space via novel diagnostics techniques. Since protein crystals are essential for identifying the molecular structure and thereby obtaining a deep understanding of their biological functionality, these studies may have applications on Earth in science and medicine.

Fluid Physics

Almost all phenomena in which gravity plays a role involve its influence on the behaviour of liquids, so it is no surprise that many experiments are in Fluid Physics. Good examples are the model substances that mimic the behaviour of molten alloys about to solidify. By using these model materials, different parameters can be adjusted without the need for high-temperature experiments and therefore with much more diagnostic possibilities. This enables us to develop theories and computer models that can later be used for optimising not only the space experiments in MSL, but also for similar processes on Earth.
Another experiment studies the behaviour of liquids between two rotating spheres under the influence of a central force. This simulates, for example, the geophysical flows in the Earth's interior, and is also relevant to studies in oceanography, atmospheric dynamics and astrophysics. Other experiments deal with the detailed understanding of boiling under various circumstances. Emulsions will be studied not only in the FSL, but also in EDR's dedicated Facility for Adsorption and Surface Tension studies (FAST). Again, it is clear that many of these projects will not only advance fundamental knowledge, but will also find important applications on Earth.

External Payloads

Although the large majority of experiments will be conducted inside Columbus, there will also be two units launched on the External Platforms attached to the laboratory: the SOLAR package and the European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF). SOLAR is mounted on the Course Pointing Device and consists of three instruments to study the Sun. Together, they will measure solar irradiance from the extreme-UV to the IR, as well as the variability of the Solar Constant. EuTEF is an exposure facility mainly for technology. It will be launched with five experiments, mainly proposed by industry to test new technologies: degradation of materials in space; space debris detection; tribology (lubrication) techniques in space; an electron plasma gun to control charging effects; and an experiment to quantify the atomic oxygen flux and interaction with surfaces. EuTEF also houses the EXPOSE facility, which is dedicated to exobiology. Seven experiments are currently selected, all dealing with the influence of the space environment, including radiation The SOLAR payload. and vacuum on spores, bacteria and other biologically active molecules. These experiments will help us to understand the existence or emergence of life on, for example, other planets and comets.