Students compete to send project into space
The winning experiment will spend 30 days in orbit, writes Katherine Donnelly
Science students are used to conducting experiments in a lab.
But now, one lucky group of Transition Year pupils is to get an unprecedented opportunity to send an experiment to a lab – in space.
The students won't be going along for the ride, but next autumn their project will embark on an out-of-this world experience.
It was through a partnership involving the Irish Centre for Composites Research (IComp) at the University of Limerick (UL) that schools got the chance to send research to the International Space Station (ISS).
The focus of the programme is to put things to the test in a microgravity experiment and the winning project will spend 30 days orbiting the earth.
It will fly to the ISS on-board a launch vehicle, scheduled for launch in autumn 2014.
An example of a research project that has already flown is a study of epoxy hardening in the microgravity environment, allowing for comparisons with what happens on earth.
A number of schools have already been selected to progress to the next stage of the competition, but only one project will eventually be chosen.
This project is being run in collaboration with the National Centre for Excellence in Maths and Science Teaching & Learning (NCE-MSTL) at UL.
It is a result of a partnership with NanoRacks LLC, which works with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilisation of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.
According to NanoRacks, its aim is to allow new users – from students to researchers, from government space agencies to individuals – to conduct research, design experiments, tinker, make mistakes, and maybe realise wonderful breakthroughs in low-earth orbit and beyond.
Dr Norah Patten, who is leading the project at IComp said that by giving students the opportunity to fly an experiment in space, they could delve into a really exciting area of research and develop skills and enthusiasm at a critical time in their studies.