Overview

QUT boasts the only teaching, research and microgravity testing facility in the Southern Hemisphere making QUT a global leader in research on the phenomena and effects of microgravity in various research disciplines.  The Phenomena in Microgravity Laboratory, located in Brisbane, Australia is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

The ground-based drop tower facility provides a ~2.1 second duration of reduced-gravity environment to support research and testing in a variety of disciplines.  Gravity strongly affects many physical and chemical processes.  Experiments conducted in a microgravity environment allow researchers to investigate the effects of subtle forces often masked by buoyancy, and gain insight into industrially relevant phenomena.  In this way, the Phenomena in Microgravity Laboratory is a valuable tool for obtaining a better understanding of common physical and chemical processes, which can then be applied to benefit everyday life. 

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Details

Microgravity drop tower

In the QUT microgravity facility, reduced-gravity conditions are generated by allowing experiments to free-fall down a vertical corridor, called a drop tower.  The experiment is protected from air resistance by enclosing it inside a drag shield. As the experiment free-falls down the drop tower, it experiences reduced gravity for approximately two seconds.  It is then safely decelerated in an airbag at the bottom of the tower, ready for retrieval and re-use. The QUT facility is capable of up to twenty tests per day, depending on the experiment.

Microgravity drop tower -view

Drop tower

The drop tower is more than six storeys high and allows for a free-fall height of 20 m.

Microgravity drop tower - experiment

Experiment platform and drag shield

The experiment platform provides a housing for all experimental equipment to be used in the drop tower. All objects mounted on the experiment platform experience reduced gravity. The experiment platform is not attached to the drag shield, but instead falls independently within the enclosed space. Since the drag shield experiences air resistance, the experiment platform falls slightly faster and 'catches up' to it during a drop. Thus the experiment platform must be permitted to move relative to the drag shield, which means a large clearance gap below the experiment platform, as shown, is required at the beginning of each drop test.

Specifications:

  • Diameter: 900mm
  • Height (upper shelf): 500mm
  • Height (lower shelf): 200mm
  • Payload Mass: 150kg

Additional equipment available includes:

  • 24 V power supply
  • Data acquisition equipment, including accelerometer
  • Switches for signalling the onset of reduced gravity
Microgravity drop tower - performance

Performance

The following graph presents the gravity level measured before, during and after a typical test. The small spike at the end of the reduced-gravity period occurs when the experiment platform contacts the drag shield, and the large spike represents impact with the airbag and deceleration.  The duration of the reduced-gravity period, measured from the moment of release to the point when the experiment platform contacts the inside of the drag shield, is 1.95s. The maximum loading expected during deceleration is less than 20g, which lasts for a duration of approximately 0.25s.

Microgravity testing services

Microgravity testing services are available for external users.  The microgravity facility can accommodate one-off experiments or extended test programs. It may be used as a stand-alone microgravity capability or in conjunction with additional work in longer duration microgravity facilities available elsewhere.  Facility staff will assist with the integration of your apparatus with drop tower equipment, and will operate the microgravity facility. Some experimental support equipment is available, as described in the experiment platform and drag shield section. All experiments will be accepted for use in the microgravity facility, as long as they meet minimum safety and structural requirements.

Prices are dependent on the length of the test program, the nature of the experiment and the amount of integration work required, but this facility offers extremely economical access to a reduced-gravity environment.

Gravity strongly affects many physical and chemical processes.  Experiments conducted in a microgravity environment allow researchers to investigate the effects of subtle forces often masked by buoyancy, and gain insight into industrially relevant phenomena.  In this way, the microgravity facility is a valuable tool for obtaining a better understanding of common physical and chemical processes, which can then be applied to benefit everyday life.

Metals combustion in reduced gravity

Understanding how and why metals ignite and burn is vital for improved fire safety in oxygen systems in medical, aerospace, SCUBA, welding and many industrial applications.  Reduced-gravity experimentation is providing significant insight into heterogeneous burning, which will improve the fire safety of metallic materials in space and on the ground.

Other reduced-gravity research programs

Some other pending, current and recently completed research programs in the microgravity facility include:

  • Fluid dynamics in reduced gravity
  • Xerogel (nanomaterial) formation in reduced gravity
  • Carbon nanotube formation in reduced gravity
  • Muscle response in reduced gravity