A scientific experiment co-piloted by ISAE-SUPAERO students is launched into orbit in the ISS
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Artery In Microgravity (AIM), the first student scientific experiment designed and developed since 2018 by ISAE-SUPAERO in collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Turin was launched on 23 November 2022 by Space X’s Dragon cargo capsule and is now in the International Space Station (ISS).
AIM was selected by ESA as part of its “Orbit your thesis” program and is intended to study the behavior of the heart and arteries in space, in order to determine whether people with heart problems would be able to live in space one day.
Living in space is the theme that motivated the students selected from the first competition organized by the ESA Academy under its “Orbit your Thesis!” teaching program for university students, which directed them towards an experiment in physiology.
Entirely designed, developed and operated by the students, AIM is a model heart which uses a pump and a red fluid, having the same viscosity as blood, flowing through a system of tubes representing the arteries. For this experiment, one artery is crushed to simulate a clogged artery and the second artery has a stent. This vascular stent is a tubular meshed metal device that is slid into an artery to keep it open.
This experiment will make it possible to study how it behaves in microgravity. Will it move? Will the molecules making it up circulate in the fluid under the effect of radiation? By monitoring the pH level of the fluids representing blood, students will be able to see whether or not they are affected by this radiation and whether the stent poses a health risk in space. This scientific experiment will enable the behavior of cardiovascular diseases in space to be analyzed
Depending on the results, a greater diversity of astronauts and space travelers could be considered.
International collaboration for a unique experiment
To successfully complete their experiment, Aerospace Engineering Masters’ degree students from ISAE-SUPAERO and two PhD students from the Polytechnic University of Turin’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department worked hand in hand.
The PhD students told their ISAE-SUPAERO colleagues what they needed in terms of data so that they could design a program in line with the scientific goals. The ISAE-SUPAERO team took over the development of the entire mission.
The Polytechnic University of Turin manufactured the fluid reservoirs and pipes required for the project. At the end of a 4-month mission in the ISS, the data collected will be analyzed and scientific conclusions drawn.
A big step towards life-size space programs
AIM is a truly international collaborative project, bringing together many engineers with multiple skills over several years. This diversity has made it possible to achieve a complex project, going from the theoretical concept to the experiment in space and data analysis.
During this project, students were able to interact with space experts. They had access to exceptional scientific resources within the Institute, but also at ESA in Belgium for vibration tests and collaborated with the entire regional aerospace ecosystem.
It is a great pride for Jorge Galvan, to be one of the students to have finalized and prepared AIM for its departure to NASA, “this project is a unique scientific and educational experiment that made us realize that it was essential to have a global vision of a system in the space sector. We were able to follow all the typical processes and experience the emotions of a manned flight mission, from system engineering to project management, and had to pull out all the stops to meet the very tight deadlines for such a mission.”
The ISAE-SUPAERO team found itself immersed in a professional environment with precise specifications and the same constraints as for any scientific experiment sent to the ISS. The students were supervised by teacher-researchers and researchers from the Institute for the design, manufacture, and validation of the experiment and the provision of equipment, such as a vacuum chamber for the test part, cleanrooms for the integration part, vibration test decks from the Institut Clément Ader, etc.
They acquired genuine field experience that Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez, a research master in space systems design, described.
"Through this project, students practice integrating and testing an ISS payload, preparing the required documentation, and carrying out an experiment on board the ISS. They gain experience and become familiar with ESA and European space industry processes, which increases their ability and potential to work on future, more ambitious professional projects”.