Zero-Gravity on an ESA Parabolic Flight

NMK Photography -
Song "Hail Bop" by Django Django -
ESA Parabolic Flights:

The European Space Agency uses Parabolic Flights to conduct short-term scientific and technological experiments in microgravity, to test hardware prior to use in space, and to train astronauts. The campaigns are provided by Novespace using a modified Airbus A300.

This footage is from the 61st ESA Parabolic Flight campaign, upon which 14 experiments were successfully conducted ranging through human physiology, material science, fluid physics and technology demonstrations. The campaign took place at the Novespace facility in Bordeaux, France, from 1-12 September 2014.

I was working on-board in a professional capacity for ESA, and also as an experimental test subject. However, my video footage and photos are unofficial, and are provided here in a personal capacity. I do not represent the Agency online.

For the curious:

1) To alleviate the common problem of motion sickness, medication is provided. One side-effect is a dry mouth, hence all the gum chewing.

2) Three pilots are required to fly the parabolas: one controlling the throttle to counteract air drag, a second controlling the pitch for a zero-lift-angle-of-attack, and a third holding the roll steady. A fourth, the flight engineer, monitors their performance and the aircraft alarm systems.

For the pedantic:

3) Technically this is neither microgravity nor weightlessness: Gravity is just as strong as on a normal flight, and acts upon your mass to produce a downward force (weight) just as normal. Weight is the force that pulls the aeroplane, and everything in it, into a parabolic trajectory (as opposed to leaving it going in a straight line). The key aspect is that the plane is falling AROUND you, protecting you from air drag, and falling WITH you such that it is not exerting any 'surface-forces' upon you. (Normally in an aircraft you are not free to fall: your seat pushes your posterior upwards, and you feel the compression that results.) More correctly during Parabolic Flight you are in 'Free Fall'.

4) There is a notable difference (about 6 degrees) between pitch and trajectory, due to non-zero aerodynamic lift being present at zero pitch.

5) The trajectory of the aeroplane isn't actually a parabola, it is an elliptic segment: if the Earth were a point mass (rather than being in the way), the trajectory would form a highly elliptical orbit, with the other end very close to the centre of gravity, and moving very much faster.

6) The accelerometer values reported are measured in the centre of the plane in the +Z direction, since this is where the g-levels are the lowest. Elsewhere there are small residual forces due to the inevitable 90-degree rotation of the aeroplane during the 22-second parabola.

For the concerned:

7) No scientists, test subjects, journalists or engineers were harmed during the making of this video. Except for me. I banged my head. It was my own fault.

Video Credit:
Vera Novais (ceiling-mounted GoPro footage)
Neil Melville-Kenney (everything else)


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