MAPHEUS - Material Research at Zero Gravity
The name of the Mapheus research rocket stands for “Materialphysikalische Experimente unter Schwerelosigkeit” (material physics experiments at zero gravity)
Physical experiments in an earthbound laboratory are often adversely influenced by gravity. The material sciences investigate processes in metal alloys at an atomic level, for example. The appropriate experiments require “zero gravity” in order to yield high-quality results. MAPHEUS, a German Aerospace Center research rocket programme, provides the material physical payloads of the German Aerospace Center with the suitable microgravity experimental environment. Every year the German Aerospace Center launches a MAPHEUS research rocket which reaches an altitude of up to 260 km and thus facilitates more than 6 minutes of microgravity, before it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere.
Research rockets, such as MAPHEUS, convert space into the laboratory for physical experiments. Compared with other microgravity platforms (e.g. drop towers and parabolic flights), such research rockets provide an attractive combination of long experiment times and a high quality of microgravity, i.e. a low level of residual acceleration. The annual flights provide the opportunity to configure an experiment system on different flights with different samples to record a number of scientific results. During the climb, the rocket rotates around its longitudinal axis. At an altitude of 70 km, what is referred to as a yo-yo system or a rate control system eliminates the spin and thus marks the beginning of the microgravity phase. After re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, the scientific experiments land with a parachute.
The material physical payload is selected, conceived, built and supervised academically by the German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Material Physics in Space. In addition, biological and biomedical experiments from the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine are also regularly on board. MORABA is responsible for the rocket systems, service system, rate control system and recovery system and conducts the launches in Kiruna (Sweden) together with SSC Esrange.
MAPHEUS-1 was launched in May 2009, and since then both the launch systems and the experiments have undergone continuous development. By switching from single-stage to two-stage rockets, the apogee could be increased and the experiment time in weightlessness extended.
With the launch of MAPHEUS 14 in February 2024, the newly developed Red Kite rocket motor will be used for the first time. Combined with an Improved Malemute motor, it will carry the heaviest MAPHEUS payload to date to around 250 km.
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