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They experimented with weightlessness

Published: 30 November 2018

It was a successful flight and a great experience in weightlessness for the team from Luleå University of Technology that participated in the ESA programme Fly Your Thesis! – It is a very weird sensation that cannot be compared to anything you may experience on ground, says Álvaro Tomás Soria Salinas, PhD student in Atmospheric Science.

– It reminds me of the first fall of a roller coaster, when you accelerate while going down, since in both cases the principle is similar. But what makes the experience weird is that, locally, you are not falling down to anywhere, you are just floating next to your experiment and for quite a lot of time. So your perception of the environment does not match with what your body is experiencing, Álvaro Tomás Soria Salinas continues.

Erik Nyberg, PhD student in Machine Elements, confirms the strange feeling of being in weightlessness.

– The experience was completely indescribable. The feeling of being able to push off with the least force and float through the room was vlovely. The weightlessness lasts about 20 seconds while the pilots maneuver to follow the parabolic curve. The whole operation takes about one minute, and this is repeated a total of 30 times with a short break between each parable.

How did the experiment perform during the parabolic flight? 

– It performed incredibly well during the flight. We managed to run it as we expected and fortunately we did not have problems to solve while flying. We also managed to automate the procedure as much as possible, so in nominal case our interaction with the experiment was reduced to minimum. Despite the delays between parabolas because of weather conditions, we could adapt the experiment to these unscheduled conditions and still obtain our results, says Álvaro Tomás Soria Salinas.

Overall, what is the most important thing you have learned from this experience?

– From my personal point of view, I think the aspect I have enriched the most during this one year project are my problem-solving and leadership skills, as well as my risk management background. You start from scratch, so the programme gives you the chance to go from design and planning all the way to the experiment construction and testing, experimentation, and data analysis. Because of this, you really learn how flexible you may have to be when you realize not everything you planned or design is possible, for example because of changes in the requirements, budget, time and delivery delays. So in some way, it shows you how real projects in space industry works, how to prepare yourself for contingencies and how to prioritize, and I think that this kind of learning is essential and unique, very rare to find in usual university degrees.

Erik Nyberg also emphasizes the uniqueness of the experience.

– The whole experience of the flight campaign was a unique experience. It was very instructive with the high standards of security and the countless inspections that our experiment was undergoing. It was also fun to see the other researchers who were on that flight with their experiments in widely different areas, such as medicine, physics, biology and mechanics. Being accepted to this programme proves that we have some interesting research at our university and I'm proud of how we implemented this complex project.