NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program

Event Date: December 20, 2013
Prof. Steven Collicott's AAE418 "Zero-Gravity Flight Experiments" class submitted an original research proposal to NASA in October, 2013. It was announced on December 18, 2013 that they were selected by NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program as one of the best proposals submitted this year.

Prof. Steven Collicott’s AAE418 "Zero-Gravity Flight Experiments" class submitted an original research proposal to NASA in October, 2013.  It was announced on December 18, 2013 that they were selected by NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program as one of the best proposals submitted this year. The selection process is very competitive and teams of undergraduate students from all over the country send in proposals for experiments to be performed in a reduced-gravity environment.

NASA will fly the student-built experiment and five of the students in weightlessness, or zero-gravity, on board a research aircraft in June, 2014.  The student team, led by AAE senior Peter Geldermans, will now build the experiment during the spring 2014 semester.

The team's proposal is "Flow Boiling Bubble Detachment Behavior on Enhanced Heat Transfer Surface Geometries in Microgravity". Their experiment investigates the impact of some of the textured surfaces developed recently for enhancing boiling heat transfer on Earth, but in short-duration low-gravity.  Boiling and condensation are necessary for creating phase-change heat transfer loops and are poorly understood, and hence, rarely used yet, in spaceflight.  The students' data from this rapid experiment program is expected to uncover new phenomena which will then stimulate the detailed experiments necessary to turn the textured surface boiling enhancement technology into useful spaceflight thermal control systems.

The team of AAE undergraduate students comprises of:

Daniel Bravo

Jessica Callinan

Ronak Dave

Peter Geldermans - Team Leader

Carter Grooves

Jonathan Hughes

Eric Jones

Margaret Kleindl

Nathan Koerschner

Timothy Machin

Brent Mathis

Nicholas McGregor

The School of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Prof. Collicott have been involved in the NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunity program since fall 1996. He specializes in research and engineering on low gravity fluids topics and advised the first few teams of students. Prof. Collicott then created an upper-level undergraduate course for students to design zero-gravity flight experiments specifically for the NASA program which then became part of the curriculum. In all, it is a team-based, hands-on multidisciplinary experience.

The team that will fly in June 2014 will be AAE's seventeenth year in a row with at least one student team winning a flight spot with NASA for their original zero-gravity science or spaceflight technology experiment.  Prof. Collicott said "I am pleased to have this team of very capable young engineers and researchers carry on the type of team-based, open-ended real-world engineering education efforts which the previous students have benefited richly from".

Periods of weightlessness lasting about 25 seconds during downward "parabola" give students scant time to ready their experiments for the next parabola. The plane varies the steepness of its maneuvers, and this varying steepness produces different degrees of weightless. Most of the maneuvers reproduce the weightlessness experienced by space shuttle astronauts flying in orbit around Earth, but a few of the maneuvers reproduce the gravity on Mars and the moon.