ISS “PK-4” research laboratory successfully launched

Key role played by OHB System AG in the plasma crystal laboratory for the Columbus module

Baikonur / Munich. At 8:09 hours CET on October 29, 2014, the European-Russian plasma crystal laboratory “PK-4” lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on board a Soyus launcher headed for the International Space Station ISS. As planned, docking the freighter at the ISS took place in the early afternoon. As with the previous two laboratories, OHB System AG (previously Kayser-Threde GmbH) was the prime contractor and, in this capacity, responsible for all system tasks. “PK-4” is a permanent installation within the European Columbus research module designed to conduct experiments on complex plasmas.

OHB System has developed and assembled two rack drawers for electricity supplies, communications and data collection. In addition, OHB System fabricated and integrated a large part of the mechanical structure as well as the control and operating software for the experiment. The “PK-4” is being installed in the European Physiology Module (EPM), which was also developed by OHB System AG and is a fixed facility for standard payloads integrated in the European space laboratory. “Once again, our team was able to fulfill the complex requirements for this new plasma crystal apparatus by developing a space-proof research laboratory for the International Space Station ISS. We are looking forward to the research results,” says Boris Penné, the member of OHB System AG’s Management Board responsible for the project.

Plasma accounts for over 99% of visible material in space. Complex plasmas (which are made up of ions, electrons, inert gas and micro-particles) can be explored most easily in weightless conditions as this avoids particle sedimentation. “PK-4” generates complex plasma crystals in a glass tube filled with an inert gas. It is hoped that the data derived from various experiments will provide new insights into the physics of condensed materials (for which complex plasmas are used as models in crystallization), various astrophysical questions (such as the agglomeration of dust in the genesis of planets) and future applications in semiconductor technology and medicine.

The “PK-4” plasma crystal laboratory is scheduled to go into operation in space for the first time in December 2014. The OHB integration team will be on site at the responsible CADMOS control center in Toulouse in order to oversee the startup. Research work with the “PK-4” will be spread over at least four years starting in April 2015.

OHB System AG completed the work in a direct contract for ESA. In doing so, it worked closely with the Max Planck Institute of Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), the “Complex Plasmas Research Group”, which emerged from the MPE, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and scientists at the Moscow Joint Institute for High Temperatures (JIHT). The Russian space authority ROSKOSMOS assumed responsibility for transporting the laboratory to the ISS and providing the necessary crew time and will be transporting the experiment data back to the earth.

About OHB System AG
OHB System AG is one of the three leading space companies in Europe. It belongs to listed high-tech group OHB AG, where around 2,000 specialists and executives work on key European space programs. With two strong sites in Bremen and Munich and more than three decades of experience, OHB System specializes in high-tech solutions for space. These include low-orbiting and geostationary satellites for earth observation, navigation, telecommunications, science and space exploration as well as systems for manned space flight, aerial reconnaissance and process control systems.

Components of the “PK-4” plasma crystal laboratory prior to transportation to the International Space Station: experiment unit, rack drawers for electricity supplies, communications and data collection (all images OHB System AG)

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Günther Hörbst
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