EU-funded 'IMPRESS' takes materials science into space

Press Release From: European Space Agency
Posted: Monday, May 1, 2006

IMPRESS is a multi-million-euro materials science project co-funded by the European Union and the European Space Agency (ESA). It brings together 150 materials scientists from across Europe and Russia and aims to develop new intermetallic alloys for industrial applications such as gas turbine blades and hydrogen fuel cells. EU officials say it is yet another example of strengthening ties between the European Commission and ESA.

Speaking after the launch of the first IMPRESS experimental payload last December, project coordinator David Jarvis of ESA said, "This launch is a major step forward in zero-g experimentation for the IMPRESS project. 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 Electromagnetic Levitator, the first IMPRESS experimental payload, was launched onboard a Texus 42 sounding rocket from the Esrange launch site near Kiruna in northern Sweden. Jointly developed by ESA and the DLR, it enables accurate measurement of the properties of highly reactive liquid metal alloys. Such measurements are unattainable on Earth and will greatly benefit the project, potentially leading to the development of important new intermetallic alloys, i.e. compounds between two or more metals.

During the 6 minutes and 28 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 to fully analyse the scientific data, project specialists say the initial prognosis is very promising.

Background: the sounding rocket module concept

'Sounding rockets' provide weightlessness to experimental payloads during an unpowered flight phase, the duration of which is determined by the apogee reached by the rocket. Since 1982, ESA's microgravity programmes have made use of sounding rockets launched from Esrange in northern Sweden.

Apart from centralised data transmission by telemetry, each experiment-dedicated module is autonomous regarding power, electronics and data processing.

Planning success

Wolfgang Herfs, ESA's sounding rocket project manager, said, "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."

With further sounding rocket flights planned, the IMPRESS project will also be making extensive use of European facilities onboard the International Space Station (ISS), including the Electromagnetic Levitator, to perform benchmark experiments on intermetallic alloys.

The IMPRESS Project is being co-funded under the EU's Sixth Framework Programme for Research and technological Development (FP6).

More information: FP6 IMPRESS webpage

ESA's IMPRESS webpage

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