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Space Send-Off: Oxford Students launch experiment to the ISS

A team of five Oxford University graduate students worked together with the International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET) to turn schoolchildrens’ ideas into an experiment to be launched to the International Space Station. The experiment was successfully launched into space onboard the Cygnus NG18 last November

As part of ISSET’s Mission Discovery programme 300 UK schoolchildren aged 14 to 18 competed to develop an experiment idea for space. They were assisted by space scientists and astronauts throughout the five-day-long competition in summer 2021. 

One of the six winning experiments was then further developed at the University of Oxford – the first of its kind to be developed here. Ross Barber, Director of ISSET, said: “Mission Discovery was designed to enable the next generation of talent and we can’t think of a better place for these bright young minds to showcase what they have learnt.”

The experiment itself focuses on ferrofluids and how these behave in microgravity. Ferrofluids are liquids that contain iron particles, making them magnetic. Using electromagnets that manipulate the ferrofluids through a coil, a current is induced by the movement of the fluid. The Mission Discovery students believe that ferrofluids can be used as energy harvesters. 

Over a year, the team of Oxford students, led by Daniel Molland and Daniel Cervenkov turned this experiment into a miniaturised version that would be able to function in a weightless environment – it had to be small enough to fit into a 5cm by 5cm payload for space travel.  Dr Mike Foale, a former NASA astronaut, assisted the students with the project and visited Oxford in October 2021. 

The experiment is designed as a pair, with one version remaining on the ground and one in space to help observe the effect of microgravity.

In November, the graduates were able to travel to the US, along with ISSET representatives, to help with final preparations and to witness the launch. 

Daniel Mollard, who is also the ISSET Chief Scientist at Oxford, said “I’m proud that I could help give that opportunity to my fellow graduate students alongside ISSET and help inspire the winning school children to believe that anything is possible!”

Vaibhavi Rajesh, one of the members of the winning team of schoolchildren, said: “I knew that Oxford would really put a lot of effort into [our experiments], but I didn’t realise the amount of work that goes into it, nor the extent of staff that work on it. It was so great to come in person to see our dream come true. It’s just been magic.” Their team was invited to Oxford to watch their experiment being built.

The results for the experiment are expected back on the SpaceX CRS26 return mission, beginning of 2023. 

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