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A magnetic levitation based low-gravity simulator with an unprecedented large functional volume

Paper Title:

A magnetic levitation based low-gravity simulator with an unprecedented large functional volume

Abstract

Low-gravity environment can have a profound impact on the behaviors of biological systems, the dynamics of fluids, and the growth of materials. Systematic research on the effects of gravity is crucial for advancing our knowledge and for the success of space missions. Due to the high cost and the limitations in the payload size and mass in typical spaceflight missions, ground-based low-gravity simulators have become indispensable for preparing spaceflight experiments and for serving as stand-alone research platforms. Among various simulator systems, the magnetic levitation-based simulator (MLS) has received long-lasting interest due to its easily adjustable gravity and practically unlimited operation time. However, a recognized issue with MLSs is their highly non-uniform force field. For a solenoid MLS, the functional volume V1%, where the net force results in an acceleration <1% of the Earth’s gravity g, is typically a few microliters (μL) or less. In this work, we report an innovative MLS design that integrates a superconducting magnet with a gradient-field Maxwell coil. Through an optimization analysis, we show that an unprecedented V1% of over 4000 μL can be achieved in a compact coil with a diameter of 8 cm. We also discuss how such an MLS can be made using existing high-Tc-superconducting materials. When the current in this MLS is reduced to emulate the gravity on Mars (gM = 0.38g), a functional volume where the gravity varies within a few percent of gM can exceed 20,000 μL. Our design may break new ground for future low-gravity research.
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