Watch a UK drone firm perform a world-first microgravity experiment
A British startup has successfully provided a first-of-its-kind microgravity service using a drone.
The firm, called Gravitilab, flew its specially-modified LOUIS UAV quadcopter to an altitude of 2,000 feet (600 meters) before purposefully dropping a capsule carrying scientific experiments.
The drop caused the capsule's contents to experience weightlessness for roughly five seconds, according to a report from Space.com. During that time, sensors took readings of the scientific payloads.
UK firm uses drones for terrestrial microgravity testing
Scientists have long used ground-based drop towers to achieve weightlessness for a brief moment, allowing them to study particles and objects under the effects of microgravity. These towers have been used as an alternative for research organizations that do not have the funding to send their experiments up to the International Space Station (ISS). However, those drop towers typically only allow weightlessness for a few fractions of a second.
Gravitilab's technology offers researchers a longer observation time, opening up many new possibilities. The company conducted its flight from the Predannack military airfield in Cornwall in southwest England. It says its technology has the potential to "open the world of microgravity research to a new market."
We're proud to announce that we achieved a world first by successfully launching the first commercial microgravity service using our patented UAV technology at Predannack Airfield in Cornwallhttps://t.co/Iwlvnexw2Z#UKSpace #SpaceportCornwall #Microgravity pic.twitter.com/1O86k8qoIR— Gravitilab (@gravitilab) February 1, 2023
In a statement, Gravitilab CEO Rob Adlard said, "the only option for terrestrial microgravity testing [in Europe] until now has been to wait several years for access to a drop tower in Germany, which provides two seconds of microgravity. Our service can be delivered locally, is less expensive and as a result of our demonstration flight, we are on target to offer 5 to 20 seconds of high-quality microgravity using our LOUIS UAV system."
The UK's space industry is taking off
This could be a big year for the UK space industry. Last month, Virgin Orbit launched a rocket from a modified Boeing 747 last month, though the company failed in its attempt to perform the UK's first orbital launch.
Other companies, like Scottish firm Orbex, are working on launching sustainable rockets using 3D-printed engines and biopropane. The company's CEO, Chris Larmour, recently told IE in an interview that one of the "biggest improvements" developed by Orbex is that the company's rocket doesn't produce black carbon. Orbex hasn't scheduled a date for its first orbital launch, though it could soar to the skies this year or next.
Gravitilab is the first company in the world to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to provide microgravity to clients. The company is part of the Cornwall Space Cluster, a technology hub the UK government is supporting to grow the country's space industry. The firm was also recently granted a UK space agency grant. You can watch footage of the company's first flight below.
Biomass, which has recently left for final testing before launch in 2024, will be the seventh Earth Explorer programme satellite in orbit.