While preparation for a spacewalk was a primary focus of crew members, science continued aboard the International Space Station, including flames, miniature satellites and fine motor skills tests.
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson tested components of an investigation that could lead to more efficient jet and rocket engines. The Elucidation of Flame Spread and Group Combustion Excitation Mechanism of Randomly distributed Droplet Clouds (Group Combustion) tests a theory that fuel sprays change from partial to group combustion as flames spread across clouds of droplets. On the space station, the position of flames and positions of liquid fuel droplets are measured along with temperature distribution as the flame spreads along a test lattice. Microgravity eliminates convection, which allows scientists to gather data points before the droplets and combustion products disperse.
Rocket engines use spray combustion of liquid propellants, but the high speeds of the fuel and oxidizer as they move through the combustion chamber makes it virtually impossible to analyze the flames. JAXA’s (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Group Combustion investigation will help improve simulations used to predict the combustion behavior to assist in the development of advanced rocket engines. This information could also help develop cleaner, more energy-efficient engines for vehicles on Earth.
ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Andrei Borisenko performed 11 test runs of the SPHERES Zero Robotics mini-satellites in advance of a competition scheduled for later in January. Student teams are challenged to design research for the station by writing programs for tasks the SPHERES satellites can accomplish that would be relevant to future space missions. The bowling-ball-sized satellites can be programmed to move about the space station cabin. SPHERES stands for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites. A major outreach tool as well as scientific investigation, SPHERES Zero Robotics provides a unique and valuable opportunity for students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — careers.
Pesquet and Whitson completed flight day 50 sessions for the Effects of Long-Duration Microgravity on Fine Motor Skills (Fine Motor Skills) investigation. Fine motor skills are crucial for successfully interacting with touch-based technologies, repairing sensitive equipment and a variety of other tasks. For NASA’s Fine Motor Skills investigation, crew members perform a series of interactive tasks on a touchscreen tablet. The investigation is the first fine motor skills study to measure long-term microgravity exposure, different phases of microgravity adaptation, and sensorimotor recovery after returning to Earth gravity. The simple tasks developed for this investigation may have wide-reaching benefits for elderly patients, people with motor disorders or patients with brain injuries on Earth undergoing rehabilitation for conditions that impair fine motor control.
Progress was made on other investigations, outreach activities, and facilities this week, including Education Payload Operations-Pesquet, ISS Ham Radio, Packed Bed Reactor Experiment (PBRE), and Manufacturing Device.
Vic Cooley, Lead Increment Scientist
Expeditions 49 & 50
Photo Credit: NASA