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UCF Space Experiment To Fly On New Rocket Ship
By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala
Orlando FL (SPX) Nov 25, 2009

Associate Professor Joshua Colwell's experiment may help unlock some of the secrets pertaining to the birth of the solar systems. Photo: Jacque Brund

A UCF physics experiment that could help explain the birth of the solar system has been selected to fly aboard a new generation of rocket ship.

The experiment, which will gather data and test theories on the formation of planets, will fly aboard New Shepard. Blue Origin, which is developing the next-generation vehicle, is among several companies seeking commercial flight opportunities as NASA prepares to retire the space shuttle and develops its replacement.

"Flights into space are limited," said University of Central Florida Associate Professor Joshua Colwell. "This is an excellent opportunity to gather additional data that can only be obtained from these kinds of flights and which is essential for our research to move forward."

Colwell's experiment is one of three selected for the test flight, which is scheduled to fly early during the test flight stage of New Shepard. The new spacecraft is designed to routinely fly multiple civilian astronauts into suborbital space.

"I am excited that Blue Origin is able to offer these research opportunities so early in the vehicle's test program," said Alan Stern formerly the head of all science missions at NASA headquarters. He is serving as a science mission consultant for Blue Origin.

Colwell and his team, which includes partners at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas and the University of Braunschweig in Germany plan to use New Shepard's microgravity environment to study early formation of planets, focusing on collisions and interactions of dust particles in freefall.

These observations will help fill in some of the gaps in knowledge of the early stages of the formation of solar systems, when clouds of loose dust began to aggregate into protoplanetary bodies.

The microgravity environment aboard the New Shepard vehicle allows the team to study multiple collisions among free-flying dust particles at slow speeds.

These collisions are impossible to perform in Earth laboratories due to the effects of gravity. The results of the experiment also will help scientists better interpret images gathered by spacecraft of surfaces of asteroids, which also have weak gravity.

Colwell joined UCF's Planetary Sciences Group in the Physics Department in December 2006. He is no stranger to conducting experiments aboard spacecraft.

He was the lead researcher on the COLLIDE and COLLIDE-2 microgravity-impact experiments for the space shuttle program and for the PRIME microgravity-impact experiment aboard NASA's KC-135 parabolic aircraft. He also is a researcher on the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph aboard he Cassini mission to Saturn.


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