ESA Upgrades Centrifuge to Study Health Effects of Weightlessness
The ESA-owned Short Arm Human Centrifuge, a machine that simulates hypergravity by spinning subjects in a container at high speeds, has beenupgraded, installed and inaugurated at the Olympic Sport Centre Planica facility near Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. With the new technology, this recently enhanced clinical research center will help scientists study methods to counteract the negative physiological effects of microgravity in space.
Without gravity constantly pulling on the body, humans in space can experience bone and muscle deterioration from underuse. The centrifuge’s spinning produces artificial gravity, encouraging blood to flow back towards a subject’s feet and providing them with a force to push against while they follow a carefully controlled exercise regime of squats, jumps, heel raises and toe raises for 30 minutes per day.
The centrifuge contains four cells designed for one person each. Spinning at 35 revolutions of the 3 m arms per minute, riders may feel a force of gravity more than twice their own body weight at their centre of mass and more than four times their body weight at their feet.
With the recently installed centrifuge, the Planica facility will soon be home to ESA bedrest studies, now run by the Jozef Stefan Institute on behalf of the ESA. Prior research using the centrifuge has been conducted at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne. The Planica facility offers equipment to collect all ESA Bedrest Core Data, allowing for comparisons between different ESA-sponsored studies. It can also be maintained under adjustable environmental conditions, such as a low-oxygen atmosphere, which is highly relevant for human exploration missions.
As the name suggests, volunteers in bedrest studies spend five to 60 days lying in bed, usually tilted backwards with their heads at 6° below the horizontal to induce blood flow toward the upper body. They are not permitted to stand up unless a research programme demands it and must perform all daily activities in bed – including eating, showers and exercise. As their bones and muscles atrophy, researchers will test different diet and exercise routines on them.
Currently, astronauts aboard theInternational Space Station (ISS) exercise for up to 2.5 hours per day, but a dose of artificial gravity may obviate the need for such lengthy workouts.
The results of these studies also benefit people on Earth. Many negative effects of living in space are similar to those experienced naturally as we age, such as osteoporosis, muscle loss and orthostatic intolerance.
ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher signed the loan agreement for the centrifuge with representatives from the Jozef Stefan Institute during his tour of Slovenia last week. Slovenia has been an ESA Associate member since 2016 and recently signed on to the Terrae Novae programme (formerly known as theEuropean Exploration Envelope Program (E3P)), intended to consolidate space exploration activities under a single European program.
Frank White has authored or coauthored numerous books on topics ranging from space exploration to climate change to artificial intelligence. His best-known work, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human...
Micah helps people understand and participate in the global space economy, commercial space companies, entrepreneurial activity, finance, government budgets and programs, or space policy. In his role as President of...
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.