Tuesday 20 November 2018

Irish scientists among elite team to fly in 'Vomit Comet'

Spaced out: Dr Tony Robinson of TCD on the ‘Vomit Comet’
Spaced out: Dr Tony Robinson of TCD on the ‘Vomit Comet’
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

It is an out-of-this-world tale involving truth serum, a drug required to endure the 'Vomit Comet' and plans for future travel in deep space.

Engineers from Trinity College Dublin were among an elite team which recently returned from a research expedition to France where they flew in a modified aeroplane that can create a zero-gravity environment. The zero-G simulates outer-space-like conditions and allows experiments that could offer solutions for deep space travel.

But the phenomenon is so physically jarring that many people experience extreme nausea - hence the plane's nickname, the 'Vomit Comet'.

The solution is a dose of scopolamine - an agent previously used in interrogation as a 'truth serum' - and also an antidote for motion sickness.

The research team is concerned with better understanding how water behaves in the absence of gravity. This is because water or steam is seen as the golden bullet for powering spacecraft deep into space. In contrast to solar energy, or other options, steam holds by far the greatest potential as there are megawatts of power that could be unlocked.

A number of experiments on the recent trip were led by Dr Tony Robinson and Dr Seamus O'Shaughnessy. Dr Robinson is associate professor in Trinity's School of Engineering, and a funded investigator with Connect, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Future Networks.

Dr O'Shaughnessy is Ussher assistant professor in energy and sustainable international development. Their team collaborated with others from the University of Pisa, Italy.

Dr Robinson said: "We are trying to drill down to the very basic physics of how water evaporates in space, and the idea is we keep building from here until we know enough that we can engineer really lean equipment for spacecraft.

"In space, there is no room for over-design and certainly no room for mistakes."

Irish Independent

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