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International Space Station Receives Asteroid “Dust” Experiment

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Researcher's at UCF's Center for Microgravity Research designed the hardware for the STRATA-1 experiment. Photo: NASA

NASA wants to explore the surface of asteroids, and private companies want to mine them for valuable resources. But we’re still not sure what to expect when we get there. An experiment designed to shed light on asteroids arrived at the International Space Station.

Josh Colwell, a researcher at the University of Central Florida says the lack of gravity on asteroids could make things difficulty for explorers. It’s so low, in fact, their gravity is “virtually zero,” says Colwell. “If you were near one of these small asteroids and dropped something, it might take it minutes to fall to the surface.”

Tubes are filled with simulated regolith - the "stuff" on the surface of asteroids. Phtot: NASA

Tubes are filled with simulated regolith – the “stuff” on the surface of asteroids. Photo: NASA

That means a layer of dust or dirt on the surface behaves quite differently than here on earth. So Colwell helped design an experiment called STRATA-1 that looks at how particles DO behave by using the low-gravity environment of the international space station.

He wants to know how things like landing legs or shovels interact with surface dust that may float around due to low gravity.

“So when we send astronauts there, or robotic explores, and they’re trying to maybe attach themselves to the surface, or take samples or make measurements interacting with the surface – we don’t know how it will behave.”

Over the course of a few months, he’ll look at how different sized particles bounce around in clear tubes. That information can then be fed into a computer simulator.

The experiment is a joint effort between UCF and other universities across the country. Funding came from NASA and Space Florida.

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Are We There Yet?' Host

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to ... Read Full Bio »