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News

Carthage debuts experiment aboard Zero-G Aircraft

By River Finnegan ’22

December 18, 2020

Propellant Refueling and On-orbit Transfer Operation (PROTO) experimentPropellant Refueling and On-orbit Transfer Operation (PROTO) experimentAs part of their ongoing participation in NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, Carthage’s Microgravity Team recently flew two experiments aboard the Zero-G G-Force One aircraft, which provides brief periods of weightlessness by flying in a parabolic arc.

Flying for the first time was the team’s Propellant Refueling and On-orbit Transfer Operation (PROTO) experiment. PROTO was the result of a collaboration between the Carthage team, NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s Energy and Propulsion Division, and the MPG team at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The team developed computer models demonstrating how to transfer propellant in and out of the proposed Gateway Lunar space station’s Power and Propulsion Element — a highly powerful solar electric propulsion spacecraft.

“The transfer of propellant from an orbiting ‘fuel depot’ is an important technology for expanding human presence in space,” says Kevin Crosby, director of Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium and professor of physics and astronomy, and computer science.

Magneto-Active Slosh Control (MaSC) systemMagneto-Active Slosh Control (MaSC) systemIn addition to the propellant experiment, in an ongoing collaboration with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Carthage is leading the development of a new technology designed to suppress the slosh of liquid propellants in microgravity — a problem that can pose a risk to spacecraft during launch and while in orbit. Sloshing propellant, which sounds like only a minor issue on Earth, can cause problems in a zero-gravity environment — including forcing a rocket off course.

The patented Magneto-Active Slosh Control (MaSC) system, uses an electromagnetic field to control where the propellant is within the tank. Prof. Crosby says the team is pleased with the results of the recent test flight.

“Our approach uses a novel and highly magnetic material formed into a thin membrane that can be positioned anywhere within a propellant tank using computer-controlled magnetic fields,” says Prof. Crosby. “The membrane acts to suppress slosh by sensing the movement of liquid and responding instantly to its motion.”

Carthage 2020 Microgravity TeamHome to NASA’s Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC), Carthage is one of a few colleges nationwide to have their research regularly funded by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.

Liam Carls ’23, a second-year physics major working on the Microgravity Team, describes how rewarding it is to be a part of this unique opportunity.

“The process of designing, building, and testing has been a real hands-on learning experience for me,” says Liam. The opportunities at Carthage for undergraduates through WSGC are great for building connections and gaining experience in the field of engineering, research analysis, project management, and many more skills related to STEM.”

Space science students at Carthage are doing graduate-level work leading to real-world experiences. These experiences have launched careers at NASA, prominent aerospace companies, and distinguished graduate programs.

Carthage 2020 Microgravity TeamTaylor Peterson ’21 says, “Participating in these experiments is such an amazing opportunity. Being able to test an experiment for consideration by NASA is absolutely mind-boggling. It has really pushed me forward to start a career in the aerospace industry.”

Read more about the research being conducted by Carthage’s Microgravity Team.

For more information about the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, contact Danielle Weiland, project coordinator for WSGC, at spacegrant@carthage.edu or 262-551-6054.