Space Research Gets Heavy
16.10.2023 - 12:51
/ Emma Doughty
Header image: ESA’s Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) running at full speed. Image credit: ESA –A. Le Floc’h
In space research, we hear a lot about microgravity – what happens when the gravitational force is reduced. However, some investigations go the other way, to find out what happens when we increase the gravitational force.
ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands has a Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) facility that allows researchers to conduct experiments in hypergravity – up to 20 times Earth gravity – for weeks or months at a time.
The LDC has gondolas capable of holding 80 kg of payload, placed at different points along its arms. In this short video, you can see what happens to ESA’s cuddly mascot – PAXI – during a short trip up to 20g and back:
Astrobiologists from Macau recently used the LDC to test the growth of fungal colonies at 2g (double Earth’s gravity).
In their home lab, the team had been using 3D clinostats – random positioning machines that continuously shift the orientation of the gravity vector to simulate microgravity conditions – to test how fungi respond to weightlessness. During two weeks at the LDC, they extended their research into hypergravity conditions, growing fungal species to maturity and analysing them for genetic or ‘phenotypic’ stress reactions.
They then sent one of the species back into the centrifuge, to check whether there were cumulative effects and whether the stress reactions and alterations were maintained.
“The study of fungi in space is called ‘astromycology’, a subset of astrobiology.”
Despite our best intentions, fungal hitchhikers accompany us when we travel into space, and they can become a problem. For example, fungal contamination obscured