On October 21, 2022, at 09:25, the MAPHEUS 12 research rocket of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrums für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) took off from the Esrange Space Center near Kiruna in northern Sweden and reached an altitude of 260 kilometers before descending back to Earth on a parachute.
On board for the first time were nerve cells. The goal is to understand how their electrical signals deviate in microgravity. The research team also investigated how the polarity of cells behaves under microgravity in connection with the development of cancer. The flight also served as a test run under space conditions for new types of solar cells as well as for an encryption technology that will protect the sensitive data of life support systems and space vehicles in the future. It also marked the first time that a reusable ignition unit was used in the upper stage.
The rocket, which is 11.5 meters long and weighs more than 1.6 tons, was the 12th to be successfully launched from the Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA) of DLR’s Space Operations and Astronaut Training facility as part of the MAPHEUS series of experiments.
Following its 15-minute flight, the payload landed gently by parachute approximately 70 kilometers from the launch site in the tundra of northern Sweden. A recovery team then flew to the landing site and transported the payload hanging from the helicopter back to the launch base, where the team immediately began securing the collected data.
MAPHEUS-12 also provided the first opportunity for the use of a re-manufactured ignition unit on the upper stage, having previously flown on MAPHEUS-9. On the ground, the mission also saw the first use of a novel telemetry system that makes it possible to distribute the signals received from the rocket at various ground stations directly to the respective control consoles for experiments and support systems.
This new development is based on components of the Holistic Control Centre (HCC), which will provide a modern, flexible and service-oriented infrastructure for all future space missions at the German Space Operations Center (GSOC).
“This flight was the first time that the two-stage rocket had the new service module on board, which offers 10 times faster communication with the ground station and more precise attitude information and features completely redesigned electronics, mechanics and software,” said MORABA project manager, Alexander Kallenbach. “The new module now serves as the basis for further developments towards intelligent on-board systems planned in the MAPHEUS-D project.“
“With MAPHEUS 12, we have transported an extremely diverse package of experiments into the microgravity of near space for approximately six minutes and recovered it safely,” said the mission’s scientific project manager, Thomas Voigtmann, from the DLR Institute of Materials Physics in Space. “We are happy to have the sensitive nerve cells, marine organisms and materials science experiments back on Earth in good condition after a perfect flight.”
“We are thrilled that the software has now successfully completed its first flight,” said Felix Huber, Head of DLR’s Space Operations and Astronaut Training facility. “This success gives the HCC concept the boost it needs to soon be used on orbital missions as well.”
All imagery is courtesy of DLR (CC By-NC-ND 3.0)
The MAPHEUS (Materialforschung unter Schwerelosigkeit; material physics experiments under microgravity) high-altitude research program implemented by the DLR Institute of Materials Physics in Space has been operating for 14 years. The annual flights are prepared and carried out by the Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA) department at DLR’s Space Operations and Astronaut Training. They provide researchers both within and outside DLR with independent and regular access to experiments in microgravity. In this program, advances in the field of measurement technologies and the realization of sophisticated flight hardware go hand in hand with cutting-edge experiments, that focus on the influence of microgravity on biological systems and material processes.