PACMAN experiment is a technology demonstrator whose main goal is to develop and validate in low-gravity conditions an integrated system for proximity navigation and soft docking based on magnetic interactions, suitable for small-scale spacecraft. This will be accomplished by launching a miniature spacecraft mock-up towards a free-floating target that generates a static magnetic field; a set of actively-controlled magnetic coils on-board the spacecraft mock-up, assisted by dedicated localization sensors, will be used to control its attitude and position relative to the target. External cameras will be used to monitor the experiment during the tests in low-gravity.
The realization of the PACMAN experiment will allow to study the behaviour of a miniature spacecraft subjected to controlled magnetic interactions in low-gravity conditions and to validate the theoretical / numerical models that describe such interactions. Data collected during the experiment testing will allow to assess the system concept feasibility and its limitations; moreover, the tests results will provide precious data that will be exploited to improve the proposed technology for future developments. The proposed technology represents an innovative solution for proximity navigation manoeuvers for small-scale cooperative spacecraft; the purely magnetic attitude and position control, as well as its self-aligning capability, imply significant mass savings as no fuel and thrusters are employed, making this concept very advantageous for miniature cooperative spacecraft.
ESA Fly Your Thesis! PROGRAMME
The Fly Your Thesis! programme gives master and PhD candidates the opportunity to fly their scientific experiment or technological research in microgravity conditions. The experiments can be related to fluid physics, chemistry, biology, material sciences, heat transfer and astrophysics. The parabolic flight campaign takes place on the Airbus A310 Zero-G, which is operated by Novespace from Bordeaux, France. Each campaign consists of a series of three flights of 30 parabolas each. These will provide about 20s of microgravity each.
The aircraft is a two-engine modified Airbus A310 Zero-G aircraft, with an overall length of 46.4 m, a wingspan of 43.9 m and a maximum mass of 157 tonnes. The aircraft provides a testing volume inside the cabin of 20 x 5 x 2.3 m3 (L x W x H) with a total mass of up to 4000 kg for all experiments, allowing a maximum of 40 experimenters or approximately 12 teams to perform their experiments. The FYT programme offers up to 4 teams the possibility to join this campaign.
ORGANISATIONS INVOLVED IN THE PROGRAMME
ESA Education Office
The ESA Education Office – Tertiary Education Unit is responsible for the Programme.
ESA Human Spaceflight and Robotics Exploration
The Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Robotics Exploration is responsible for all operation and research done at ESA on the ISS, Parabolic Flights, Drop Towers and Sounding Rockets.
The European Low Gravity Research Association (ELGRA) is a non-profit organisation of scientists in the field of altered gravity.
Novespace is the company operating the Airbus A310 ZeroG and performing the parabolic flight campaign. Their role is to give support in developing the links between aircraft and experiment and to ensure a safe experiment.