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Research and Education Facilities

Space Life Sciences Laboratory

The laboratory uses space analogs that reproduce some of the environmental conditions unique to space. Space differs from the ground-based environment in four main areas: magnetic field, gravity, atmosphere, and radiation.

In this lab we can shield the geomagnetic field and produce at will a magnetic field representative of any Earth orbit or beyond.

We can also run experiments in a random positioning machine to effectively simulate microgravity.

We use this equipment to study an invertebrate animal model in a variety of space analog environments. Microscopy (see picture) allows study of wound healing and growth. Recently, we have added an infrared system to capture behavioral data and this is being used to study the effects of mission-relevant medications on locomotion in planarian.

Through collaborations, we have access to proton and electron accelerators in Strasbourg to study the effects of radiation, including gamma rays.

Video microscopy is used in the Space Life Sciences Laboratory to conduct studies of tissue regeneration in planarians exposed to low magnetic field and simulated microgravity environments.

Magnetic-shielded chamber, where the planarians can be exposed to a controlled magnetic field

MIT-Haystack-ESA 21-cm Radio-Antenna

Astronomy students usually have access to optical telescopes, but have rarely access to radio telescopes. In 2010, ESA donated to ISU a Small Radio Telescope, originally designed by the CASSI Inc., for the MIT Haystack observatory, as an educational tool.

The antenna can be used to detect hydrogen in the Galactic plane and measure its radial velocity (along the line of sight), study the structure of the Galactic plane, and observe the Sun.

Neutral hydrogen emits light at a wavelength of 21cm when the electron orbiting the hydrogen nucleus flips its spin. The photons emitted at a frequency of 1.420 GHz, in the radio range of the electromagnetic spectrum, can travel through vast amount of interstellar dust and be detected by a radio antenna.

The 2.3-m Haystack antenna on the roof of the ISU building

ESA-Dresden Antenna

A 1-m Ku dish antenna has the potential to detect and measure the flux of the Sun and the Moon at 10–12 GHz. ESA started a program to design and for the assembly of a radio telescope kit that can be used for student education, called “Radio Astronomy at Schools”.

With this antenna donated by ESA, Master students at ISU can measure the temperature of the Sun and the Moon at different phases. It is also possible to measure the water content of the atmosphere with this antenna.

The 1-m ESA-Dresden antenna on the roof of the ISU building.
The cloudy sky does not prevent to observe at 10–12GHz!

Ground Station

Establishing a good communication link between a satellite and ground antenna is the most important endeavor after the successful launch and deployment of a satellite. The ground station located at the Central Campus of ISU is used for teaching and research in space telecommunication. The station was originally part of the Global Educational Network for Satellite Operations (GENSO), which was a global network of university operated satellite ground stations.

The antenna infrastructure consists of three antennas (VHF, UHF, and S-band), that are installed at the mast with two antenna rotators. This is the typical configuration of a ground station that covers most education or communication needs.

The antennas are connected to preamplifiers that perform 20 dB low-noise signal amplification in a specific frequency range. This is done to increase a feeble signal from a satellite and compensate for the feeder length. The VHF (144-146MHz) and UHF (434-438MHz) antennas are four vertically stacked crossed Yagi-Uda antennas, which narrow the radiation pattern in the elevation plane to 15°. Signals from the antennas are fed through a feeder of approximately 50 meters terminated with an IC-910H radio transceiver. The pointing system is achieved with M2 AZ-1000A and M2 EL-1000A rotators and is operated with RC2800PX-AL and RC2800PX-EL controllers.

ISU continues to use the satellite ground station to instruct Master students in satellite communications. Past projects by students and faculty involving the ground station have included radio conversations with the International Space Station, downloading telemetry from cube-satellites, and performing a “Moon Bounce” with another amateur radio station.

The ESA–ISU ground station

Vacuum Chamber

ISU has successfully acquired a Small Vacuum Chamber (SVC) along with supporting equipment in recent years, with the aim to pursue scientific studies and conduct potential collaboration efforts with academic and space sector partners.

Donated to ISU in 2009 from the Institut für Raumfahrtsysteme (IRS) Stuttgart, Germany, the J.B.MICHIIELS manufactured simulation facility is an 90-l environmental horizontal cylinder vacuum chamber.

Earlier, ISU had acquired the vacuum pumping system from a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in 2008. The Ultratest F leak detector, containing two rotary vane pumps, is tasked with chamber evacuation as vacuum pumping system. Together with the SVC, the vacuum gauge and support equipment form the elements of ISU’s Vacuum Chamber System.

Environmental chamber facility and vacuum pump unit

2.5-m Drop Tower

We can gain a valuable insight into the concept of microgravity by using ISU’s 2.5 meter drop tower to perform a series of free-fall/weightlessness experiments.

The duration of the free-fall is ~0.45 seconds. This is sufficient time for us to video-record some intriguing microgravity physics effects. The mini drop tower uses a solid-state, wireless, color video camera to record the effects of free-fall on experiments dropped in a custom-made Plexiglas capsule.

The drop tower is also equipped with 3-axes, wireless accelerometer (for measuring acceleration). It should be noted that the quality of the free-fall environment associated with ISU’s drop tower is typically ~10-2-10-3g. This is impressive given the modest construction costs involved.

The equipment in free-fall.
On-board-camera recording of a flame, whose shape changes to round in weightlessness conditions.

Reddy Shock Tube

A shock tube is used to study the effects of shock waves on materials under a wide range of temperatures and pressures.

The 1.5-m-long Reddy Shock Tube (RST) is unique in Europe and was donated by Professor K.P.J. Reddy of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. It was delivered to ISU in Summer, 2018.

It is manually-operated and capable of generating shock waves of circa 1.5 Mach (circa 500 m.s-1).

The RST has been used by students to study how molecules and small living organisms react to unusual physical conditions. For instance, the processing of nucleobases following hypervelocity collisions was recently assessed with respect to potential processes leading to nucleosides, nucleotides and nucleic acids. The study suggests that our method of shock processing of nucleobases provides a pathway by which these self-assembled organized structures could have appeared on the early Earth, without invoking catalytic activity or atmospheric conditions, only triggered by shock energy provided by impact events.

The Reddy shock tube with equipment to measure pressure and shock wave speed

Concurrent Design Facility (CDF)

Concurrent Design Engineering has been a leading method for conducting Phase 0 and Phase A studies in the Space Industry for decades. The European Space Agency first established a Concurrent Design Facility at the European Space Research and Technology Center (ESTEC) in 1998 where it was used to study more than 80 potential space missions, 3 space launched concepts, and 5 ISS experiments.

In 2008 this CDF facility was donated by ESA to ISU when it acquired a larger facility at ESTEC.

The CDF has been in operation at ISU ever since as an educational facility. The ISU CDF room is equipped with high tech motion capture projectors, and state of the art computers which greatly expand the educational potential of the facility.

The ISU CDF serves as an indispensable teaching tool for students to learn about the concurrent design process, carry out space mission design and systems engineering. So far, students have used the CDF facility to design several space missions concepts, primarily for telecommunications and remote sensing satellites that have received international accolades.

SHEE, the Self-deployable Habitat for Extreme Environments

The first European space simulation habitat was built by a European consortium led by ISU within three years (2013 – 2015) under an EU Framework 7 contract.

The objective of the project was to develop a self-deployable habitat test-bed that will support a crew of two for a period of up to two weeks. During this time the habitat would provide for all of the environmental, hygiene, dietary, logistical, professional, and psychological needs of the crew.

Today the habitat is installed in the ISU high-bay and is used by the students and professors during architecture workshops. Equipment that could be used during Moon or Mars missions can be tested in a realistic analog platform.

SHEE in Rio Tinto, Spain, as integrated mission element with suitport
© Bruno Stubenrauch, 2016

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