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First UZH Space Hub research flight campaign

(13 June 2018 - University of Zurich) Research goes airborne: The UZH Space Hub is holding its first research flight campaign from 11 to 13 June. An airbus performing parabolic flights will take off from the military airfield in Dübendorf. In addition, a zeppelin will be used to investigate how to discover plastic in water from above using special image sensors. This could help to detect plastic pollution in the world’s seas.

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Yair Feuchtwanger, Spacepharma SA, and Srujana Neelam, University of Zurich, on board. (courtesy: R.Sablotny;UZH)

This year the newly opened Innovation Park Zurich repurposed old hangars on the military airfield in Dübendorf into office space, creating a novel combination of airfield and laboratory. This site is now where the UZH Space Hub carries out joint research projects of the University of Zurich and its partners from air and space travel. “We want to provide science and innovation with straightforward access to space and make research take off,” says Oliver Ullrich, director of the Space Hub. “The UZH Space Hub’s unique combination of innovation park and airport can deliver important impulses for business, industry, science and innovation.”

Detecting plastic in water

Due to the adverse weather conditions on Monday, the zeppelin flight with UZH geographers on board had to be postponed: “It’s our goal to find plastic in water using highly specialized image sensors,” explains Andreas Hueni, who leads the Plastic Waste Mapping project of the Remote Sensing Laboratories (RSL) at the Department of Geography of the University of Zurich. To achieve this, the researchers are using a special hyperspectral camera, which is attached to the zeppelin. This camera is expected to detect various plastic nets swimming in the ponds on Irchel Campus from the sky. The findings from this project can contribute to improving the identification of plastic pollution in the oceans.

Zero gravity research

For the third time an Airbus A310 ZERO-G will take off from Dübendorf as part of the Swiss Parabolic Flight campaign. The research flights have for the first time been expanded across two days as a result of the high demand. The parabolic maneuvers – repeated extreme ascents and nosedives – create zero gravity conditions for a duration of 22 seconds each. This allows researchers to gain significant insights into the effects of gravity on biological, chemical or physical processes without having to leave the planet’s atmosphere using rocket or space technology.

16 experiments in zero gravity

Parabolic flights have been an important part of research in zero gravity for years and are normally carried out by major space agencies such as the European Space Agency (ESA). The UZH Space Hub and the Swiss SkyLab Foundation are taking a different approach: The costs are shared by industry, academia and private persons. This one-of-a-kind model has succeeded in significantly reducing the costs for academia.

A total of 16 experiments have been carried out on Swiss parabolic flights since 2016. It’s thanks to these flights that scientists from Switzerland have been able to acquire research funding at a European level or complete their research projects on the International Space Station within a record-setting time of only three months.

On board: Chinese Academy of Sciences

On this year’s zero-gravity flights a number of scientific experiments of Swiss universities and industry will be carried out. For example, the Balgrist University Hospital will investigate the influence of weightlessness on the human muscoskeletal system, while UZH will examine how cells respond to changes in gravity. New research equipment for the International Space Station ISS will also be tested. The parabolic flights will also welcome international team of scientists: The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) is set to test production processes for space application.