MPE MPE   Gruppe Theory   Projekt Plasma crystal   Projektseite Parabolic flight
Parabolic Flight Campaign ESA 31

October 10-18, 2001, Bordeaux (F)


of the preparation and operation of the plasma crystal experiment
onboard the Airbus A300 Zero-G

The goal of this parabolic flight campaign was the optimization of the electrode configuration of the up-coming IMPF (now: 'PlasmaLab') facility onboard the International Space Station ISS and to test the functionality of different types of particle injectors.

(See also press releases of externalESA (point 3) und externalKayser-Threde.)

A300 Zero-G
Courtesy of >>Novespace

Theory of PF The theory of parabolic flights: If a body is in the state of free fall its weight (not its mass!) vanishes. A plane following a parabolic trajectory (like a stone thrown into the air) is in the state of free fall. The passengers and everything inside the plane experience the state of weightlessness as long as the plane follows the parabolic trajectory.
The parabolic flight manoever goes like this: From the normal horizontal flight mode (1g) the nose of the plane is pulled up (Pull-up phase (mp3)), until a slope of 47o with respect to the horizon is reached. In this phase the plane (and all its passengers) experience nearly the double weight (1.8g) for 20 seconds. Then the plane enters the parabolic trajectory (Injection (mp3)): the engine throttle is reduced just to compensate the air drag and the lift of the wings is compensated by a negative angle-of-attack. This means, from now on the plane is force-free (all surface forces are compensated to 0), it only follows gravity, the plane is in a free fall. Everything and everyone inside is in weightlessness (Microgravity).
After app. 22 seconds of free fall the plane dives downwards with 42o, the parabola has to be exited to recover the plane into the normal flight mode (Pull-out (mp3)). In this phase the plane and the passengers experience again the doubled gravity (1.8g) for 25 seconds until the plane gaines back its normal flight mode (1g).
The parabolic flight manoever is repeated every 3 minutes, in total 31 times at each flight. A campaign normally consists of 3 flight days. The manoever is performed manually by 2 of 3 pilots and 2 flight engineers. Including cruise time to the test flight area above the Atlantic ocean one flight takes app. 3-4 hours.   (Picture courtesy of Centre d'Essais en Vol (French Flight Test Center))

Airbus A300 Zero-G

The Airbus A300 Zero-G at its base airport at Bordeaux-Mérignac. Before the flights the plane is available for three days for mounting and testing of the experiments.
The parabolic flight campaigns are managed by the company Novespace

The experiment area inside the A300 provides space for ca 10 scientific experiments at one campaign. During take-off and landing the scientists are seated in front of and behind the experiment area.

Inside the A300


Installation of the plasma crystal apparatus inside the Airbus.
Left side: Rack with control computer, electronics and data acquisition computer.
Right side: Digital video recorder, plasma chamber (enclosed due to safety reasons), gas supply system (Argon) and vacuum pump.
The foam tubes serve as a cushion for the edges of the set-up to prevent from injuries during flight.

Last fine tuning of the oscillators (copper coils) for matching the high frequency generator output to the electrodes inside the chamber.

Plasmakammer mit RF-Endstufe

Plasma gezündet

View into the plasma chamber. The high frequency discharge between the electrodes (top and bottom) is ignited, the plasma 'burns' (violet glow). The chamber is filled with Argon gas with a pressure of 0.3 mbar. Also the Laser for the illumination of the particles works well (red reflections).

Installation is finished. Everything is fixed (not to float away in weightlessness) and the edges are cushioned (not to hurt floating crew members). The plasma crystal set-up is ready for the up-coming safety inspection.

Einbau fertig

Team 1. Flugtag

The crew of flight day #1: Roland Seurig (Kayser-Threde), Uwe Konopka (MPE) and Karl Tarantik (MPE, not imaged) in front of the apparatus ready to fly.
The red straps keep the crew in place to conduct the experiment in weightlessness.

Close out Take off Taxiing
Up, up and away!

Plasma crystal crew on flight day #2: Karl Tarantik, Michael Kretschmer, Uwe Konopka (all MPE staff). Team 2. Flugtag

Pull-up: 2g Pull-out: 2g Injection: 0g
In the parabola

Team 3. Flugtag

The extended crew on flight day #3: Michael Kretschmer, Roland Seurig, Roberta Castegini (Kayser-Threde) and Karl Tarantik below the A300 Zero-G.

Roberta an der Kamera Staub im Plasma Michael am Kontrollrechner
Floating scientists and micro-particles

Coming home after 90 parabolas with lots of data that now need to be analyzed...

Airbus Arrival

Some data and results...

Photographs courtesy of Uwe Konopka and Michael Kretschmer

Updated: 2006-12-06
Contact: Michael Kretschmer mail
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