A zero-gravity instrument to study low velocity collisions of fragile particles at low temperatures

D. M. Salter, D. Heisselmann, G. Chaparro, G. van der Wolk, P. Reissaus, A. G. Borst, R. W. Dawson, E. de Kuyper, G. Drinkwater, K. Gebauer, M. Hutcheon, H. Linnartz, F. J. Molster, B. Stoll, P. C. van der Tuijn, H. J. Fraser, J. Blum

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We discuss the design, operation, and performance of a vacuum setup constructed for use in zero (or reduced) gravity conditions to initiate collisions of fragile millimeter-sized particles at low velocity and temperature. Such particles are typically found in many astronomical settings and in regions of planet formation. The instrument has participated in four parabolic flight campaigns to date, operating for a total of 2.4 h in reduced-gravity conditions and successfully recording over 300 separate collisions of loosely packed dust aggregates and ice samples. The imparted particle velocities achieved range from 0.03 to 0.28 m s(-1) and a high-speed, high-resolution camera captures the events at 107 frames/s from two viewing angles separated by either 48.8 degrees or 60.0 degrees. The particles can be stored inside the experiment vacuum chamber at temperatures of 80-300 K for several uninterrupted hours using a built-in thermal accumulation system. The copper structure allows cooling down to cryogenic temperatures before commencement of the experiments. Throughout the parabolic flight campaigns, add-ons and modifications have been made, illustrating the instrument flexibility in the study of small particle collisions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number074501
Number of pages8
JournalReview of Scientific Instruments
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


  • cryogenics
  • dust
  • high-speed techniques
  • ice
  • vacuum apparatus
  • zero gravity experiments
  • low-temperature detectors
  • refrigerators


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