Materials research in space in a weightless environment

For the Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) in the European space laboratory Columbus, PINK has built the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML) on behalf of Airbus Defence & Space. With this system, experiments for the development of new materials are carried out in a weightless environment.

New metal alloys and semiconductors are mainly produced by melting. The PINK module permits container-free processing by floating the material samples in their liquid state in an electromagnetic field.

In this way it is possible to exclude problems associated with the earth's gravity and obtain new findings, e.g. on solidification conditions, material microstructure and the physical characteristics of new metal compounds on exposure to heat.

As a special technical challenge, PINK has developed high-precision drives for sample transfer and mirror changers that work under ultra-high vacuum conditions in this experimentation module. In some cases, the module's components have to withstand temperatures of up to 2.000 °C.

Cleanroom assembly work on the ultra-high vacuum chamber of the EML materials research module

PINK electron-beam welds special metals to produce these intricate cages of the sample holders. This is where the material samples are fixed during weightlessness and their return trip to earth.

Molten experimental samples take on an ideal spherical shape in an electromagnetic field in a weightless environment. This increases the accuracy of measurement enormously.