When you think of rides you’d like to take over summer vacation, one on the “vomit comet” probably doesn’t come to mind. But for nine students from West Virginia University, the chance to conduct their research as part of NASA’s program that introduces students to the feeling of zero-gravity spaceflight was too good to pass up.
“It was incredible flying in zero-gravity and touring the NASA Houston facility,” said recent graduate and “flier” Dustin Frohnapfel, of Follansbee. “The experience made the nine months of preparation completely worth it.”
Other fliers included Spencer Elyard, of Clarksburg; Evan Ford, of Follansbee; Stephen Itschner, of Huntington, Md.; Michael Powell, of Hagerstown, Md.; and Joey West, of Wheeling.
For the 12th time in 13 years, the team from WVU participated in NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program, which gives teams of undergraduate students from across the nation the opportunity to propose, design, build, fly and evaluate experiments involving microgravity.
The WVU team, which was made up of students in electrical engineering and in mechanical and aerospace engineering, had their proposal selected by NASA based on scientific merit and education outreach potential from more than 67 submitted proposals. Professor John Kuhlman serves as their advisor.
The WVU team tested their experiment aboard G-Force One, a microgravity aircraft that can produce periods of weightlessness lasting up to 25 seconds at a time by flying a series of approximately 30 parabolas – a steep climb followed by a free fall – over the Gulf of Mexico. The sudden changes can make fliers ill, thus the airplane’s nickname.
Joining WVU in this year’s program were teams from Baldwin Wallace University/John Carroll University; Purdue University; Rice University; SUNY Buffalo; University of California San Diego; and University of Texas, El Paso.
The team chose to research the effect of microgravity conditions on spray cooling systems. Spray cooling is used to cool a wide variety of electronic devices, from super computers to high-powered lasers.
“This technology could be very useful to NASA if it can be made ‘idiot proof’ and where it doesn’t need maintenance,” Kuhlman said.
Spray cooling has been researched before, but not extensively, and published experiments have offered conflicting results.
“Some research has shown microgravity decreases the efficiency of the cooling and some show it actually increases the efficiency,” said Nick Underwood, of Beaver, who participated on the ground crew. He added that the team hoped to identify a relationship between the velocity of the spray and the amount of heat that is removed from the cooled surface.
“By identifying a relationship, we hope to optimize future spray cooling systems by determining how much spray is needed to cool a surface by a specified temperature,” Underwood continued. “Doing so will allow optimized systems to conserve energy and resources. This would be critical, for example, on long-term space flights, where energy consumption is always a top priority.”
The team will issue a final report analyzing the experiment’s effectiveness, scientific findings and conclusions to NASA in two months.
CONTACT: Mary Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
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