Freedom from gravity

Freedom from gravity

The space agencies of Europe are uniting! Last week, ESA, the German Aviation and Cosmonautics Center and the French Space Agency CNES joined forces to conduct a special parabolic flight campaign, entirely dedicated to experiments in the field of life science. From June 4 to June 7, eight experiments were conducted at three levels of partial gravity and another one for a parabolic flight campaign.

During parabolic flights without gravity, research teams are subject to 20-second spikes of weightlessness, during which they perform various tests (from the study of life, technological demonstrations and to material physics). What happens with this degree of weightlessness?

Researchers got a unique opportunity to conduct tests with gravity on a quarter, a half and three quarters. The goal is to better understand biological dependence on gravity. Future colonists will spend a lot of time on Mars and the Moon, so it is important to be aware of the level of influence on the body and functioning.

One experiment studied the effects of partial gravity on brain function. Early analyzes showed that short-term exposure to microgravity increases neurocognitive function due to increased blood flow to the brain. But a long flight has a negative effect. Another group exposed the roots of a young plant to doses of partial gravity and controlled the growth with lasers to study how they could remain “grounded” in the absence of gravity. Plants quickly adapt to weightlessness, but it is important to understand how this happens at the cellular level.

Parabolic flights are one of the ways to create microgravity conditions on Earth. But how do they do it? This maneuver is often performed by the A310 Zero-G. After a sharp rise to 50 degrees, pilots reduce thrust and altitude to get rid of air resistance and lift. This sets the plane on a parabolic flight path. Then it falls over the top of the parabola, forming zero thrust for 20 seconds.

To achieve partial gravity, set a smaller angle. The maneuver is repeated every 3 minutes 31 times per flight. ESA conducts parabolic flights twice a year for microgravity research.

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