July 19, 2018

Purdue aerospace class flies NASA experiment to space aboard Blue Origin rocket

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A Purdue University aeronautics and astronautics class successfully tested a zero-gravity flight experiment on Blue Origin’s latest suborbital rocket, New Shepard.

Professor Steven Collicott and his Zero-Gravity Flight Experiment class designed their payload on the Wednesday (July 18) flight from a private location in Texas, to test predictions for how liquid forms droplets or plugs in small tubes in weightlessness, such as in the condenser of a heat transfer loop in a spacecraft.

Applications on Earth include the presence of water droplets in lung passages and the control of condensed liquid in fuel cell gas passages.

The Condensed Droplet Experiment for NASA in Suborbital Spaceflight (ConDENSS) was designed and built over the last two years by undergraduate students and a master’s student in the College of Engineering’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

NASA’s Flight Opportunities program chose Collicott’s ConDENSS experiment proposal for flight testing. The Flight Opportunities program uses new flight opportunities to research diverse problems identified in NASA’s technology needs for future human and robotic space missions.

“Flying experiments like this spaceflight technology payload for NASA on a commercial re-usable rocket will soon be common,” said Collicott, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics. “With a launch cost that is only a few percent of older, single-use rockets, this new space industry is opening up more options for space-based experimentation than most of us ever dared to hope for a decade ago.” 

During the flight, the experiment controlled a series of injections and withdrawals of small liquid amounts into eight specially designed tube-like test sections. Unique computer models created by the team predict whether the various liquid volumes form droplets, sleeves or plugs in the different test sections.

Video data from the experiment are used to test the predictive ability of the models. It takes about six months for data analysis and a comparison to modeling. Collicott said an initial look at the data on Wednesday was unclear.

The hands-on, real-world engineering teamwork in the Zero-Gravity Flight Experiment is a popular upper-level undergraduate experience for students pursuing careers in aerospace engineering. Twenty-two years of zero-g flight experiments on parabolic aircraft flights and commercial suborbital rockets have provided students in the class with unique experiences in scientific experiment design, spaceflight safety, automatic control of aerospace devices, original problem-solving and more. 

Writer: Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084, bhuchel@purdue.edu  

Source: Steven Collicott, 765-494-2339, collicott@purdue.edu

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