Microgravity science involves the study of physical phenomena in which the normal force of gravity present on earth is greatly reduced. This can be done by the use of parabolic-trajectory aircraft, drop towers, sounding rockets, and by conducting experiments in space.
Microgravity research involves a broad range of disciplines, including materials, fluid dynamics, combustion, and biological systems. Combustion research is greatly facilitated by the removal of buoyant convection in microgravity, which can result in geometric simplifications, and increased time scales, which greatly aid both the experimental investigation and numerical modeling of combustion processes.
Conducting experiments in microgravity can also unmask important behaviors in fluids undergoing phase-change processes. These mechanisms can include the action of thermocapillary forces, the recoil associated with ejected vapor, the effects of non-uniform vaporization or condensation, and the impact of these forces on the stability and structure of the evaporating film.
Microgravity research activities and interests in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics are focused on fluid physics and combustion. These include the study of the vaporization / combustion of cryogenic propellants in microgravity conditions and film evaporation processes in normal and reduced gravity.