Airplanes have been used since 1973 to provide a nearly weightless environment in which to train astronauts, conduct research, and film motion pictures. Such aircraft are commonly referred by the nickname Vomit Comet . To create a weightless environment, the airplane flies in a six-mile long parabolic arc, first climbing, then entering a powered dive. During the arc, the propulsion and steering of the aircraft are controlled such that the drag (air resistance) on the plane is canceled out, leaving the plane to behave as it would if it were free-falling in a vacuum. During this period, the plane’s occupants experience about 25 seconds of weightlessness, before experiencing about 25 seconds of 2 g acceleration (twice their normal weight) during the pull-out from the parabola. A typical flight lasts around two hours, during which 40 parabolas are flown. Parabolic flights offer advantages unique to this platform
- Tests of systems in preparation for long-duration Space missions
- Biomedical research experiments on human test subjects in weightlessness
- Ideal environment for new experiments
- Tests of experiments in critical design phases
- Low cost of design and production of an experiment
- Possibility to carry out several series of experiments during three consecutive days
- Possibility to use standard laboratory equipment
- Researchers interact directly on their experiment during flight
01.ZERO G CORPORATION
Zero Gravity Corporation (also known as ZERO-G) is a Nevada based company, formerly of Fort Lauderdale, which operates weightless flights. The company operates a modified Boeing 727 which flies parabolic arcs similar to those of NASA ‘s Reduced Gravity Aircraft. Unlike NASA, Zero G is governed by the FAA under Part 121 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (as are all US commercial passenger and cargo airlines) enabling them to offer the experience of weightlessness to both adventure tourists and researchers alike.
Founded by entrepreneur Peter Diamandis , astronaut Byron K. Lichtenberg, and NASA engineer Ray Cronise, the company is one of many private space companies working towards space tourism. A number of notable passengers have been on weightless flights run by the company, including Penn Jillette and Teller , Martha Stewart , Burt Rutan , Buzz Aldrin, and John Carmack . Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking also completed a shortened flight on April 26 >, 2007 . On December 9, 2007, Zero G hosted Adam Savage, and Jamie Hyneman of MythBusters to prove or disproved whether the Apollo Moon landing was a hoax or not. The shoot aired in May 2008, and coincided with NASA’s 50th anniversary. On April 21 , 2007 , they began regular flights from Las Vegas for the general public at ticket prices of USD $3,675. Good Morning America aired promotional footage featuring their weatherman Sam Champion during a preview flight in Ohio . In March 2008, the company was acquired by Space Adventures. The current price of a flight for a single passenger is USD $4,950.00 (plus tax), or roughly $330 per parabola.
NASA’s current Reduced Gravity Aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas C-9 , is based at Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. NASA’s Microgravity University – Reduced Gravity Flight Opportunities Plan, also known as the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program, allows teams of undergraduates to submit a microgravity experiment proposal. If selected, the teams design and implement their experiment, and students are invited to fly on NASA’s Vomit Comet.
The European Space Agency flies parabolic flights on a specially-modified Airbus A300 aircraft, in order to research microgravity. The ESA flies campaigns of three flights on consecutive days, each flight flying about 30 parabolas, for a total of about 10 minutes of weightlessness per flight. The ESA campaigns are currently operated from Bordeaux – Mérignac Airport in France by the company Novespace , while the aircraft is operated by the Centre d’essais en Vol (CEV – French Test Flight Centre). The first ESA Zero-G flights were in 1984, using a NASA KC-135 aircraft in Houston, Texas. As of March 2006, the ESA has flown 43 campaigns. Other aircraft it has used include the Russian Ilyushin Il-76 MDK and French Caravelle.
Novespace, subsidiary of the French National Space Center (CNES) created in 1986, owns and operates the Airbus A300 ZERO-G. Novespace organizes in-flight tests and research activities for customers worldwide mainly in parabolic flights. Parabolic flights provide a very flexible access to microgravity for a large range of scientific experiments and technological tests. As compared to other microgravity access facilities (sounding rockets, drop towers, orbital flights…), parabolic flights offer a much bigger experimentation area and give the researchers the possibility to work in situ directly on their experiment at a significant lower cost. CNES and the European Space Agency (ESA), partners of the parabolic flights program, share the cost of the heavy maintenance of the aircraft. Novespace relies on Sogerma Services for the aircraft maintenance activities and on the flight test center of the French defense procurement agency (DGA) for the flight operations.
The Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE) and the Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency (EXA) announced today that they have jointly developed the first and only plane in latin america capable of performing microgravity flights. EXA designed and built the device that allows the planes recreate the microgravity, called MGCP or Multivectorial Gravimetric Computing Platform, which is the key for this type of flight, the device was installed on both missions on board FAE planes, the device was designed by Nader and and built in the country by EXA engineers. FAE put the experience of their pilots, the planes and the technical personnel needed to modify the planes and install the MGCP, FAE now becomes the only air force in the region to have pilots trained in microgravity flight. The plane is a modified T39 Sabreliner, rechristened FUERZA-G UNO – CÓNDOR.