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Students Submit Experiments To NASA

The KU Microgravity team will submit three experiments to the Reduced Gravity Flight Program sponsored by NASA. If selected, the engineering students would spend two weeks next summer testing their experiments in zero gravity.
by Kansan staff writer Nate McGinnis
Houston TX (SPX) Oct 17, 2006
Three teams of engineering students are submitting self-designed experiments to NASA for a chance to test them in zero gravity at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The teams, collectively known as the KU Microgravity Team, are submitting proposals to test a propulsion system for a small satellite, a docking mechanism and a lunar rover.

The teams will submit the experiments to the Reduced Gravity Flight Program sponsored by NASA. If selected, they would spend two weeks next summer testing their experiments in zero gravity.

Ben Parrott, Overland Park senior, participated in the program last summer and helped organize the teams for this year's proposals. His team last year designed and tested a cold gas propulsion system for a small satellite using compressed air and nitrogen.

Parrott said his team spent the first week of the program fine-tuning the experiment and preparing it to fly on the aircraft. The second week consisted of testing the experiments on an airplane in zero gravity.

To test their experiments in zero gravity, the team flew aboard a government research vehicle nicknamed the "weightless wonder," a C-9 style aircraft that simulates a zero gravity environment.

The plane creates a zero gravity environment by flying in a parabola pattern. The planes follows a parabola pattern, and the steep descent creates a negative G-force and simulates a zero-gravity environment for about 30 seconds, and the pattern is then repeated.

The day before the experiments flew on the plane, Parrott said a team of NASA engineers, insurance observers and flight directors asked them questions and approved the project for flight.

Trevor Sorensen, associate professor of aerospace engineering and the team's faculty adviser, said the group originally proposed and had their experiment accepted by NASA in 2004, but didn't test it in the summer of 2005 because of problems with the zero gravity aircraft NASA used in the program.

Sorensen said this year's proposal was designed to overcome problems from last summer's experiments. He said the test plane interfered with the satellite's wireless controls and the team didn't get the full results they wanted from the experiment.

Aaron Terrell, Auburn, Ala., senior, is working on a different proposal to create a space shuttle docking mechanism for the international space station using shape memory alloy.

Terrell said shape memory alloy was a combination of metals that can change shape, stiffness or position by stimulation from an electrical field or heat.

The molecular structure of the shape metal alloy is set in a certain shape, such as a straight bar. The alloy can then be bent out of its original shape, distorting the original molecular structure. When the alloy is exposed to an electrical current, it undergoes a molecular change that rearranges the alloy back into its original shape.

Terrell said the team designed a docking mechanism to use two different pieces of the alloy. One of the pieces would start out straight and then be coiled. When a space shuttle needed to dock, an electrical current would stimulate this piece, causing the metal to expand outwards towards the shuttle. Once the mechanism is attached to the shuttle, another piece of shape memory alloy, which was designed to do the exact opposite, will contract and pull the shuttle back towards the space station for docking.

The third proposal would test the capabilities of a lunar rover in reduced gravity. The lunar rover is the same idea in theory as the Mars Rover, but must be designed to function on the moon which is about one-sixth of Earth's gravity, where as martian gravity is about one-third.

Terrell said none of the team members receive class credit for the projects and all the work is done solely for the experience. Parrott said if not all of the proposals are accepted, the team members will be redistributed so everyone can participate in the program.

Kansan staff writer Nate McGinnis can be contacted at [email protected].

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Kimchi To Boldly Go Where No South Korean Pickle Has Gone Before
Seoul (AFP) Oct 16, 2006
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