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Watching a bubble float effortlessly through the International Space Station may be mesmerizing and beautiful to witness, but that same bubble is also teaching researchers about how fluids behave differently in microgravity than they do on Earth. The near-weightless conditions aboard the station allow researchers to observe and control a wide variety of fluids in ways that are not possible on Earth, primarily due to surface tension dynamics and the lack of buoyancy and sedimentation within fluids in the low-gravity environment.
Understanding how fluids react in these conditions could lead to improved designs on fuel tanks, water systems and other fluid-based systems for space travel, as well as back on Earth.
Investigations - Laboratory - Focus - Fluid - Physics
Many investigations aboard the orbiting laboratory focus on fluid physics including the motion of liquids or the formation of bubbles. As on Earth, the formation of a bubble is sometimes a welcomed addition, but could also be an indication that something has gone wrong and must be reworked. Technology, investigations, and even tasks as simple as drinking water must take bubbles into consideration to be adapted to be functional in a microgravity environment.
Here are several investigations that use bubbles or fluid physics to their advantage.
Observation - Analysis - Smectic - Islands - Space
The Observation Analysis of Smectic Islands in Space (OASIS) investigation studied the unique behavior of liquid crystals in microgravity, noting the way these crystals act as both a solid and a liquid. Freely suspended crystal bubbles in microgravity represent nearly ideal fluid systems that are physically and chemically the same for the study of liquids in motion. Understanding how these crystals behave in space could lead to improvements to space-helmet micro-displays, as well as higher-quality screen displays on devices that use liquid crystal displays (LCDs).
The Capillary Flow Experiment (CFE) sought to solve the problem of transferring fluid from one container to another in space. Without gravity, liquids...
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