A team of engineering students from Oklahoma State University have been selected to fly weightless aboard NASA’s reduced gravity aircraft to study the design of an artificial gravity system. The flight will take place later this spring.
The Space Cowboys team is only one of 14 selected nationally and will join other teams from Purdue University, Rice University, Virginia Tech, West Virginia University, the University of California and eight other schools. The team was selected after a highly competitive process from a national pool of proposals submitted to NASA. Zach Barbeau, aerospace engineering undergraduate student and Dr. Jamey Jacob, aerospace engineering professor, lead the OSU team.
OSU is participating through The Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program, which provides undergraduate students the opportunity to design, build and fly experiments in reduced gravity. The team was selected as part of NASA’s Microgravity University.
The OSU Team has worked with NASA mentors to design and build experiments based on current NASA research. They will perform experiments NASA’s microgravity aircraft, the Weightless Wonder, which produces periods of weightlessness for up to 25 seconds at a time by executing a series of approximately 30 roller coaster-like parabolas over the Gulf of Mexico. During the free falls, the students will gather data in a unique environment that mimics space.
This will be the fourth mission for the Space Cowboys, which puts them in a rare category of teams selected this many times.
“This speaks to the quality of students we have participating in our aerospace engineering program,” says Jacobs.
OSU’s experiment will investigate a novel design to generate artificial gravity in space. The team has previously tested the concept before for NASA to demonstrate feasibility and this flight will provide more detailed information on the performance and design requirements.
The Space Cowboys’ concept uses inflatable beams and rotation to generate an artificial gravitational field similar to what is experienced on Earth. Weightlessness has detrimental effects on the human body over long periods of time and a system such as OSU’s may be required for long duration space flights to Mars or other interplanetary destinations.