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The platform for microgravity experimentation is open to scientists and university students

UPC experiments with zero gravity at Sabadell Airport

As part of the first edition of the Barcelona Aerobatics Zero-Gravity Challenge, UPC students have had for the first time the opportunity to test their experiments under zero-gravity conditions.

The winners of the first edition of the Barcelona Aerobatics Zero-Gravity Challenge, organized by the Aeronautics and Space Research Center (CRAE) at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), hav had the opportunity to test their experiments at the Sabadell Airport (Edifici AeroClub, 08205 Sabadell) on Sunday, 31 October.

The contest, led by Professor Antoni Pérez-Poch of the CRAE, challenged undergraduate and postgraduate students at the UPC to design and build a zero-gravity experiment in a limited amount of time.

The winner of this first edition of the contest was a project entitled “Perspective-Reversible Figures in Parabolic Flight,” developed by a team from the International Space University (ISU) led by microgravity research expert Gilles Clément of France. The other members of the team were Alexandra Kindrat, Heather Allaway and Alexander Melinyshyn of Canada, Jagruti Pankhania of the United Kingdom, and Jonathan Muller of France.

This contest was made possible by a collaboration agreement between the UPC, the flight school AeroClub Barcelona-Sabadell and the Barcelona Aeronautics and Space Association (BAIE). The second edition of the Barcelona Aerobatics Zero-Gravity Challenge will feature the participation of the Space Generation Advisory Council, an international association of students and young space professionals that works with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

Platform for zero-gravity experimentation
Thanks to an agreement between the UPC and AeroClub Barcelona-Sabadell, the Sabadell Airport has become a platform for microgravity experimentation that is open to the European Low Gravity Research Association (ELGRA), as well as to university students. Since 2007, the airport has been the site of research led by Professor Pérez-Poch on the effects of zero gravity on the cardiovascular system.

This research, undertaken in collaboration with aerobatics pilot Daniel Ventura, has included the validation of NELME, a numerical model that simulates cardiovascular changes resulting from exposure to microgravity.

Other research conducted at the airport has demonstrated that the long-term effects of microgravity deconditioning of the cardiovascular system—such as arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, decreased vascular resistance, fainting and difficulty walking—are practically identical to those of Mars-level gravity (about one-third that of Earth).

In addition, parabolic flights with light single-engine aerobatic aircraft—like those used to recreate zero-gravity conditions in Sabadell—offer the possibility of conducting experiments like those done by NASA and the European Space Agency at a fraction of the cost. In fact, the cost of maintaining and operating this platform is estimated to be one-thousandth of the cost associated with conventional parabolic flights.

Although single-engine airplanes offer shorter spurts of weightlessness—between five and eight seconds—these periods are long enough to allow experiments to be carried out under microgravity conditions similar to those experienced in larger craft, which can achieve up to 20 seconds of zero gravity per parabola.

The experiments carried out and the technologies being developed in this field have proved essential to our understanding of physical, chemical and physiological processes. One example is the discovery of a fundamental mechanism that helps to control the cells that produce red blood cells. This discovery stemmed from a study of “space anemia,” a common condition among astronauts.

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