I am leading a project at the space club of Tampere University of Technology, where we aim to research the opening of electric sails in a space-like environment. The research team consists of students only, and the problems and challenges related to the experiment vary from physics to electrical design and traditional mechanical engineering. The opening experiment requires near vacuum and low G-forces, which we can achieve by putting a vacuum chamber in an aeroplane, which flies a sine wave type path.
The electric sail has been invented in the Finnish Kumpula Space Centre by Pekka Janhunen. It is a whole new way to travel in space, and very different in it's working principle from a traditional solar sail. Electric sails have not been tested in space-like conditions, so we want to be the first team to do it. The measurements of the experiment will be done using high speed cameras and rotary quadrature encoders.
Our current test setup consists of mainly a huge 700 liter vacuum chamber, a vacuum pump, high power electronics and a release system for the electric sails. All of the vital components to the experiment, such as the vacuum chamber and the sail release "vehicle" have been designed by the research team and either manufactured locally or ordered from Finnish companies.
All the expensive parts for the ZeroG experiment have been acquired or manufactured. The test setup is at final steps of assembly, and we expect it to be ready for actual microgravity flight before the summer of 2016. All the big problems related to the experiment have also been solved, leaving just a few minor details for us to still work on.