Aerospace companies are often intimately involved in research and development of all kinds, and Airbus is no different. As part of a current project, it is working to produce an experimental unit for the fluid science laboratory installed within the Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS), with a focus on the study of “soft matter.” Soft matter results from the different mixtures between gases, solids, and liquids (including gels, foams, aerogel emulsions, and granulates).
The Research into Soft Matter
The idea behind this experimental unit is to support basic research of such soft matter in order to determine and fine tune the mathematical tools used to model it; this can later result in the optimization of industrial processes on the ground, as well. Currently, the experiments are focused on the study of wet foams and compact granulates under microgravity conditions. Microgravity is needed as gravity masks the dynamics of the soft matter being studied.
For the development and production of such an experimental unit, the European Space Agency (ESA) contracted Airbus to lead an industrial consortium stretching over three European countries. The Fluid Physics and External Payloads department of Airbus manages the “soft matter dynamics” project, developing this unit for the ISS. Airbus has been in charge of the technical requirements breakdown for the device, while subsequent design work was performed by their subcontractors in collaboration with Airbus.