GrapheneX starts experiments with graphene as a material for light sails
This week, GrapheneX, a team of four young researchers from TU Delft, is doing a series of experiments in a weightless environment. The aim is to test graphene as a material for a so-called light sail, which may be used to propel spacecrafts in the future. The researchers hope to show that the ultra-thin material is suitable for this purpose.
Just as a normal sail uses the wind to set a boat in motion, a light sail uses sunlight (or light coming from a laser on earth) to propel a spacecraft. ‘If you want to make a solar sail it’s very important that the materials you use are very light,’ said Vera Janssen, a PhD student involved in the GrapheneX project. Graphene has this property, since it is only one atom thick.
The team will test the material this week in an environment that mimics the conditions in space: the ZARM Drop Tower in Bremen (Germany). During the experiments, the researchers will shine laser light on free floating graphene membranes. They will measure what happens to these membranes.
Zero Gravity Graphene – Solar Sails
Catapulting a capsule
To create extreme microgravity conditions, down to one millionth of the Earth’s gravitational force, a capsule containing the experiment will be catapulted up and down the 146m tower, leading to 9.3 seconds of weightlessness. ‘The facilities are something impressive. I’m very honoured to be able to use them’, said Rocco Gaudenzi, another PhD student who is part of the GrapheneX team.
The experiment will be performed as part of ESA Education’s Drop Your Thesis! programme, which invites students to propose ideas for microgravity experiments.