Improved Microgravity Environment

Crook, Alexandra
Block, Adam
Drop facilities are one of the main forms of ground based, microgravity testing available. By employing drag shields or vacuum chambers, aerodynamic drag is minimized while a payload enters a state of free fall. Microgravity environments of 1x10-3 to 1x10-5 g can be achieved for 2.2-5.2 seconds in these types of facilities. Disadvantages of drop facilities include high expense and potentially long experimental waitlists. The objective of this project was to create a quality, inexpensive, microgravity environment for duration of time equivalent to or better than current drop facility capabilities. An alternative method to achieve microgravity was employed by dropping an aerodynamic payload from an unmanned weather balloon at an altitude of 30,500 m AGL. In order to comply with current international design standards, the project utilized CubeSat micro-satellites and acted as a screen test for future, large scale, CubeSat testing. This permits housing CubeSats up to a 3U form factor. All electronics, instrumentation and experiment testing equipment are contained within the CubeSat. This project was constrained to CubeSat requirements for flight and experimentation to provide a seamless transition from ground-based testing to orbital microgravity testing. The exterior shell of the payload functions as an aerodynamic monocoque with a parachute recovery and balloon cutaway system. A systems engineering methodology was utilized to reduce risk and improve the probability of success. Designing this platform to accommodate a variety of experiments allows it to be used as an important part of STEM education strategies and potential overflow for future NASA missions.
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