The Space Engineering Research Center (SERC) recently participated in a series of Zero Gravity (G) aircraft flights out of Ellington Field, Houston, Texas. These flights, sponsored by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), fly a parabolic flight profile to provide brief periods of weightlessness, that simulates the environment of space for both human and experimental payloads.
The SERC has participated in a number of these flights over the last two decades, logging thousands of these weightless parabolas. They require particular expertise to design systems, especially those that involve fluids, to operate properly in space. This latest experiment, called Microgravity Multi-Phase Flow Experiment for Suborbital Testing (MFEST), relies on a gas-liquid separation system developed by Texas A&M University engineers. All principal test objectives for payload operations and data collection were met in the Zero G test series. MFEST is sponsored by NASA/Johnson Space Center and conducted under NASA’s flight opportunities program. Plans are to fly this experiment on one of the new commercial space-planes that will begin flights late next year, taking passengers and payloads on a suborbital trajectory for a longer-duration near space experience.
The recent flight had a number of Texas A&M Aggie connections. Aggie graduates Dr. Cable Kurwitz was the SERC technical lead on the project, and Dr. Katy Hurlburt of the Crew and Thermal Systems Division at Johnson Space Center was the NASA engineer in charge. Dr. Frank Little of the SERC was the primary Test Engineer on the flights, and flying with Dr. Little was Aggie graduate and former employee Dr. Rube Williams, Director of the Jet Learning Laboratory, a technical leaning center in Houston. Another collaborator and Aggie graduate was Mike Ellis of Advanced Cooling Technologies, Inc. The SERC Director is Chip Hill (another Aggie graduate).
Dr. Frank Little (top) and Dr. Rube Williams (left) weightless on a recent Zero Gravity flight
In addition to carrying out the MFEST flight test objectives, Dr. Little, himself a volunteer firefighter in Wheelock, wore a Bryan Fire Department patch on his flight suit to pay tribute to the Bryan Fire Department firefighters killed and injured in February. In addition, a sign carried on the aircraft honors Lieutenants Gregory Pickard and Eric Wallace, and Firefighters Rickey Mantey and Mitch Moran of the Bryan Fire Department. It was a small gesture, but it is hoped the families and friends of the firefighters can take some comfort from their loved ones’ names “flying high” with the SERC space engineers.
Bryan Fire Department sign on recent NASA Zero Gravity Flight