Project Name: Icy-Grains

Customer: UK Space Agency - In collaboration with the Open University and Telespazio Vega

Objective: Assess technical feasibility and cost through detailed design of a cryogenic payload to monitor ice particles collisions in microgravity


The ICY Grains experiment is fundamental research project to describe, qualitatively and quantitatively, the collisions that dominate the earliest stages of icy planetesimal formation to answer “how do planets form?”.

The project is a phase A/B study to design an experimental payload suitable for sub-orbital flight to study the aggregation of ice particles in microgravity, whereby mm-sized icy grains collide with velocity ~1 cm/s to form fluffy’ ice aggregates, that stick to form cm- sized icy ‘pebbles’.

Kayser Space was responsible for planning all aspects of the mission on commercial suborbital platforms and, specifically, the preliminary design of the cryogenic payload.

The system comprises multiple containers enclosed within a cryostat of 700mm in height and 400mm at its widest point – the system will fully occupy the volume of 3 “Mid-sized lockers” (MLEs); a fourth MLE space will also be necessary for accessing the top of the system during installation.

The ‘experiment’ will take place at the centre of the system within the particle collision chamber, where the ice particles will be introduced and allowed to collide. The collision chamber is a spherical copper mesh supported by a copper wire frame with a radius of 4.5 cm to provide the lowest surface to volume ratio to minimise radiation absorption. This construction allows the structure to appear transparent whilst having a high thermal conductivity allowing it to be easily cooled. A mesh thread-count of 40 TPI (Threads per Inch) will provide apertures of 0.45mm, which is less than half of the desired particle size. This chamber is contained by an Inner Vacuum Chamber (IVC) which is surrounded by a thermal Radiation Shield (RS) and this in turn is enclosed within the Outer Vacuum Chamber (OVC).

The initial (loose) mm-sized ice particles (3000 in number) need to be introduced into a cold collision chamber. They are stored in a particle container equipped with a floating plate that is used to push the particles through a hatch into the collision chamber with adequate momentum. The container is made of dual metal construction to prevent the floating plate jamming when put under cryo temperatures. The particle container is threaded to the end of the of an actuator stick which is loaded from the top of the system through the central chimney.

Three orthogonal cameras mounted externally to the system (in ambient conditions) will view the experiment to allow for 3D mapping of the particle interactions. This will be used to develop computer models to further our understanding of planet formation from protoplanetary discs.


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