Experiments on the ISS
Original article On Station September 2003
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.
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.
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.