From Parabolic Flights to the International Space Station: Technology Tests for the Cosmic Kiss Mission in Weightlessness

Retinal microcirculation in weightlessness test (Credit: Nicolas Courtioux/Novespace)
  • The 36th parabolic flight campaign of the German Space Agency at DLR took place from June 4th to 11th, 2021 from Paderborn airport.
  • In addition to eight experiments from the fields of human physiology, technology and physics, technology tests are carried out for the International Space Station (ISS) mission.
  • Topics include health care during space missions and gender-sensitive medicine.

PADERBORN, Germany (DLR PR) — At the 36th Parabolic flight campaign of the German Space Agency at DLR, which took place from June 4 to 11, 2021 from Paderborn airport, various technology tests for the “Cosmic Kiss” mission of the German ESA astronaut Matthias Mauer were carried out in advance in weightlessness.  These include “Retinal Diagnostics” for eye health for astronauts and “Thermo-Mini” for measuring human body temperature during space missions. Matthias Maurer will take off for the International Space Station ISS in autumn 2021. 

“In addition to the two technology tests, the parabolic flight will again include many exciting research topics,” promised Dr. Katrin Stang, head of the parabolic flight program of the German Space Agency at DLR. “We have eight experiments from the fields of human physiology, technology and physics on board. “

Retinal Diagnostics and Thermo-Mini: Health care for space missions

One of the technology tests that Matthias Maurer will carry out during his mission on the ISS is “Retinal Diagnostics”, a research project on the eye health of astronauts at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne. A change in the optic nerves is one of the most serious impairments people can experience on space flights. In the experiment on the ISS, the optic nerve head of an astronaut is to be measured by means of recordings with a very small, lightweight camera for prevention and diagnosis. This should make it possible to track changes, but also to be able to determine the success of countermeasures used. The handling of the camera and accessories is tested on the parabolic flight.

Another technology test for the “Cosmic Kiss” mission is Thermo-Mini. With the system, the scientists can continuously record the core body temperature in humans. So far it has been found that staying in space and activities there lead to a significant or even threatening increase in core body temperature. The exact causes for this are so far unknown. The rise in temperature represents a potential danger for astronauts. The miniaturized hardware can be worn comfortably as a headband. In parabolic flight, the new model is tested purely technologically for its functionality.

Experiment to stabilize attitude control systems (Credit: Nicolas Courtioux/Novespace)

Gender equitable medicine with the experiment “STRONG”

With the project “STRONG”, a scientific team from the LMU Klinikum München is carrying out an experiment on so-called “gender medicine” that takes into account gender-specific differences in everyday medical practice. This branch of research is intended to change the current practice in which drugs, medical diagnoses and treatment approaches are primarily oriented towards male patients.

In the past, the team at the LMU Klinikum had researched the stress reactions of male test persons to the change from normal and double gravity as well as weightlessness as part of a parabolic flight. With the “STRONG” experiment, the scientists are now specifically investigating the hormonal and immunological reactions in the female body to the stress caused by the different gravity conditions.

Retinal Diagnostics technology test (Credit: Nicolas Courtioux/Novespace)

German-French cooperation at TEKUS

As part of a German-French cooperation, experiments are carried out in the “TEKUS” project, in which the heat and material transport in a liquid under weightlessness is investigated. Scientists from the University of Cottbus and the University of Le Havre in France generate a controlled flow in a fluid by applying an electric field and a temperature difference. The findings from the experiments can be used, for example, to optimize heat exchangers. Heat exchangers are used, for example, in cooling systems or gas boilers. 

While the investigations on Earth are overlaid by gravity-driven flow movements, the effects under weightlessness during parabolic flight can be observed undisturbed and compared with computer models. The experiments are carried out with a new type of measurement technology and represent important preliminary investigations for a further experiment that is to fly on the TEXUS-57 sounding rocket in autumn 2021.

The next DLR parabolic flight campaign will take place from July 14 to 24, 2021 from Paderborn airport with ten experiments from the fields of human physiology, biology, physics, materials science and technology.

The DLR parabolic flights

Since 1999, the German Space Agency at DLR has regularly organized parabolic flights for biological, human-physiological, physical, technological and material science issues. The research aircraft, the A310 ZERO-G from the French company Novespace, is used once or twice a year for scientific campaigns by DLR, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the French space agency CNES. 

A DLR parabolic flight campaign usually consists of three flight days with around four flight hours, on each of which 31 parabolas are flown. During each parabola there is weightlessness for about 22 seconds. In total, about 35 minutes of weightlessness are available for a flight campaign – alternating with normal and almost double the acceleration due to gravity. that researchers can use for their experiments. Up to 40 scientists can take part in a flight with between ten and 13 experiments on board.