ESA Sends Space Students into Microgravity

Teams of masters and PhD students will use specially equipped Airbus A310 Zero-G aircraft performing parabola maneuvers to test their experiments.
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The European Space Agency is involved in two programs meant to attract students to study space.

The first, known as “Fly Your Thesis,” provides masters and PhD students from ESA Member and Cooperating states to design, build and fly scientific or technology-related experiments in microgravity. These are the conditions that astronauts experience in space. The dramatic reduction of gravity up to a few thousandths of the pull on Earth provides experimental conditions that are impossible to reproduce in ground-based laboratories.

Between 2009 and 2012, there were three editions of Fly Your Thesis. At the time, 11 student experiments were flown, producing many interesting scientific results. Being part of a space project and experiencing microgravity were inspirational for many of the students.

Students participate in the program in teams. Those students are required to propose an experiment as part of their Masters or PhD thesis or research project. The program involves the students’ projects experiencing microgravity conditions.

Selection into the program is a two-step process. First, students have to submit their experiment proposal. Second, ESA will draw up a shortlist of up to 15 teams. Third, the teams will be given a few more weeks to further develop their experiment proposal and fill in the Experiment Safety Data Package (ESDP) document.

Shortlisted students will also be invited to a dedicated selection workshop scheduled on December 14-15, 2015 at the ESTEC, in The Netherlands. There the students will defend their projects in front of a panel of experts.

After the workshop, up to four teams will be selected to further develop their experiment and fly them during the ESA Microgravity Research Campaign that will take place in Bordeaux, France, most probably during the autumn of 2016.

During the two-week campaign, the student teams will work with renowned European scientists in carrying out their own research. To perform the experiments, the students will accompany their set-up on three jet flights of 30 parabolas each. During each parabola, they will experience about 20 seconds of microgravity. A specially equipped Airbus A310 Zero-G aircraft will perform the parabolas maneuvers.

The ESA Education Office, ESA and Novespace microgravity experts will provide support to the selected teams. Novespace will provide the aircraft and perform the parabolic flights. Teams will also receive mentoring from a member of the European Low Gravity Research Association (ELGRA). The ESA Education Office will provide financial support to cover some of the cost of the experimental hardware as well as travel and accommodation expenses.

Interested students can register at the ESA Education Office’s Project website, complete the experiment proposal and a letter of endorsement from a professor or academic supervisor from their university, and submit the package to the ESA Education Office.

An explanation on how to apply can be seen here.

In addition, The ESA’s technical Center ESTEC is opening its doors to the public on Sunday, October 4, 2015, the 58th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik-1. The opening will be part of the Netherlands’ national Weekend of Science and World Space Week.

You will have the opportunity to meet astronauts and space experts, tour key facilities and examine actual space hardware.

The event will focus on the longer-term space future and highlight the novel technologies being developed to change the space industry.

Innovations including telerobotics, 3D printing and advanced automation will be featured.

ESTEC is the place where Europe’s Rosetta comet-chaser was conceived, designed, and tested and where the Rosetta study team is based. ESTEC was also involved in the very first European satellites launched more than four decades ago and is involved in the upcoming BepiColombo mission to Mercury, the ExoMars missions, and the Juice mission to Jupiter’s icy moons.

ESTEC also has its own Business Incubation Centre, which assists new startup companies with the latest technologies. Many of the startups will be exhibiting their products and services at the event.

Full details of the event will be released later this summer.

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