New research conducted by MU Engineering could lead to water being harvested in space

The Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering created a team to conduct an experiment in a zero-gravity environment.

A recent experiment conducted by students and faculty of the MU College of Engineering could grow into the possibility of being able to harvest water in space. Professor Chung-Lung (C.L.) Chen, assistant research professor Sheng Wang and Ph.D. student Run Yan guided the team on the G-FORCE-ONE, a specially modified Boeing 727, in November 2019 in Orlando, Florida.

After receiving funding from NASA, the team shared the news with the College of Engineering. Wang said the associate dean requested this experience be accessible to undergraduate students, enabling them to participate in a unique experiment while still at MU. The team was made up of Wang, Robin Pham, Robert Enyard and Jack Kellett. They also engaged with two mechanical and electrical engineering capstone groups and other engineering students as well.

They received funding from NASA after developing a device in their lab at MU. They used their electrowetting method where condensation is produced on the surface area. When they turned on the device in the lab, more condensation was on the surface than normal. This gave the team the idea of conducting the method in space.

“For this specific flight, we prepared for about a year to a year and a half,” Wang said. “We conducted our research for two or three years before our first flight.”

According to the MU College of Engineering, the team experienced issues when preparing for flight, one of them being approval certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration. While the flight took place in November 2019, it was originally scheduled for July. The team has worked together to improve from their mistakes for their next flight, which is expected to take place in March 2020.

“We hope to get some attention from other fields in the Engineering school; we want it to be a collaboration,” Wang said. “Specifically students majoring in electrical engineering because we want to make some of the components in the test device automated.”

Pham also commented on what he hopes the team will improve on for the March flight.

“We have good results, but for the next flight we have more goals; we want to make it better,” Pham said. “That is why we are working on a new system and revising some of the recording systems.”

The team members all had different experiences when going into zero-gravity for the first time. Wang compared the experience to being on a rollercoaster and having to connect all of the wires, cameras and automate everything while on the coaster.

“Kellett and I got sick on the trip,” Wang said. “Kellett had a fever the night before and did not realize it until after the first day of flight, which made him stay on the ground for the second day.”

The next flight will be taking place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. With some team members recently graduated and others graduating in May, the team is in need of two to three more flyers to make the trip. One junior, James Fritsch, only joined the team last week but is looking forward to the upcoming trip in March.

“I am looking to gain hands-on technical experience in the aerospace research field in an aerospace research project,” Fritsch said. “Research such as this will give me experience that some of these graduate schools are looking for, and this project will show me what research at that level will look like.”

Edited By Alex Fulton | afulton@themaneater.com

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