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Experiments in weightlessness

Project Geoflow II flies into space aboard Ariane 5

The Geoflow II experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) will help scientists to understand convection currents within the Earth’s mantle. They will use the experiments on the ISS to improve numerical calculation methods in order better to understand the processes in the Earth’s mantle that lead to volcanism, plate tectonics and also earthquakes. Geoflow II was built by Airbus Defence and Space on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Following its first trip to the ISS in 2008, Geoflow’s flight model was modified by Airbus Defence and Space in 2009 and 2010 to permit experiments with an altered science profile. Unlike Geoflow I, the focus is now on convection currents in the Earth’s mantle. Scientists will use the experiments on the ISS to improve numerical calculation methods in order better to understand the processes in the Earth’s mantle that lead to volcanism, plate tectonics and also earthquakes.

 

The Geoflow II box

Scientists under the direction of Cottbus University in Germany will use a honey-like fluid to fill the space between two concentric spheres at different temperatures inside an experimental cell. They will simulate gravity and planetary rotation by rotating the fluid and applying a high voltage. A camera will photograph the current patterns within the sphere.

The experiment can only function correctly if the artificial force field is not disrupted by real gravity. This is why it could have no better home than the weightless environment of the ISS.

Scientists hope that Geoflow II will start transmitting data to the Brandenburg University of Technology (BTU) from space in March 2011. Meanwhile, preparations are already underway for Geoflow III: this experiment will study atmospheric flows from the poles to the equator.

 

You can find lots more information about the ATV ‘Johannes Kepler’ in our special dossier (articles, interview, videos, etc).

 

 

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