The IMPRESS project saw the first launch of an
experimental payload, the Electromagnetic
Levitator, onboard an ESA/DLR-funded Texus 42
sounding rocket, from the Esrange launch site
near Kiruna in northern Sweden, on 1 December at
10:06 hours CET. This experimental payload,
jointly developed by ESA and the DLR, enables
accurate measurement of the properties of
highly-reactive liquid metal alloys. Such
measurements are unattainable on Earth and will greatly benefit the project.
Intermetallic Materials Processing in Relation to
Earth and Space Solidification (IMPRESS) is a
multi-million euro materials science project
co-funded by ESA and the European
Commission. The project, which currently
involves 150 materials scientists from across
Europe and Russia, aims to develop new
intermetallic alloys for industrial applications
such as gas turbine blades and hydrogen fuel cells.
During the 6 minutes and 37 seconds of weightless
conditions provided by the sounding rocket, the
Levitator performed as planned. During the
flight, scientific and housekeeping data as well
as video images of the sample were received in
real-time and closely monitored by engineers and
scientists at the Esrange ground station.
Although more time will be needed for a full
analysis of the scientific data, the initial prognosis is very promising.
“This launch is a major step forward in zero-g
experimentation for the IMPRESS project”, said
David Jarvis, ESA Project Manager. “The next
generation of intermetallics developed under
IMPRESS has the potential to make Europe a world
leader in the strategically-important area of
materials science. The economic significance of
this should not be underestimated, as turbine
production and fuel-cell development is currently
a multi-billion euro industry, the growth of which is set to continue.”
The coming weeks will be busy ones for the
science team, led by Dr Rainer Wunderlich and
Prof. Hans-Jörg Fecht from the University of Ulm,
Germany, as it pores over the thermophysical
properties data obtained during the flight.
Eventually, that data will be used under the
IMPRESS project to improve computer modelling of
advanced solidification processes. This research
is of major importance to the casting industry in
Europe and will ultimately lead to the next
generation of materials for aircraft jet engines.
“The success of this mission is thanks to the
careful preparation by the IMPRESS science team,
the industrial development team led by EADS-Space
Transportation, Bremen and Friedrichshafen in
Germany and the operational support team at the
DLR Microgravity User Support Centre in Cologne
and at Esrange” said Wolfgang Herfs, ESA’s Sounding Rocket Project Manager.
With further sounding-rocket flights planned, the
IMPRESS project will also be making extensive use
of European facilities onboard the International
Space Station – including the Electromagnetic
Levitator – to perform benchmark experiments on intermetallic alloys.
For more information about IMPRESS, visit the project website at:
<a href=”http://www.spaceflight.esa.int/impress” target=”_blank” >
and concerning ESA’s sounding rocket programme, visit:
<a href=”http://www.spaceflight.esa.int/users/rockets” target=”_blank” >