Russians to put first centrifuge on ISS

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Russia today announced that they are developing and plan to launch the first small centrifuge ever to fly in space.

The centrifuge would be installed on an inflatable module that Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems, which specializes in studying the medical problems of space travel, is building, and would be used to study the effects of artificial gravity in weightlessness.

Unfortunately, the announcement doesn’t tell us much more than this. Based on previous such announcements from Russia, I would not be surprised if this project never flies.



  • DougSpace

    With the module being inflatable, the diameter could be greater than a regular module.

  • Gealon

    While between this and the nuclear engine, Russia seems to be looking in the right direction, however I am concerned about the effect such a piece of hardware would have on the station it’s self. If the rotating component is not balanced, it could very easily introduce an oscillation into the station’s structure that the gyros would not be able to dampen. Given that the ISS is designed to simply float in the general serenity of low Earth orbit, such an oscillation could be devastation to the vehicles rather spindly structure, especially the solar arrays, on which the entire complex is dependent for power.

    Of course the lack of details from the Russians is pretty par for the course and this centrifuge might be no bigger then a washing machine. So until more details come out I can only speculate and even then, with such little information, my concerns could be spot on, or completely groundless. In any case, all we can do is sit and wait to see what they do, cancel it, fly it, delay it, what ever.

  • LocalFluff

    Japan built a centrifuge module which was canceled in 2005. They don’t want anything shaking the space station and messing with the microgravity experiments on the ISS. And simulated gravity isn’t necessary for the first trips to Mars anyway.

    Russians are full of hot air. They like to make fantastic claims about the future. As long as it is about the future, they seem able to say anything, they don’t think of it is breaking a promise or committing a fraud to just make stuff up. As long as it is a good story, anything is allowed. Russians themselves understand culturally that this will never happen. Only westerners take them literally.

  • wodun

    If it has its own module, couldn’t it be possible to operate it detached from the station?

  • LocalFluff

    @wodun, Sure, attached only with a power cable. But when I’ve seen this idea proposed before, in some forums online, it has met the argument that they really really don’t like having free floating stuff near the station because of the collision risk. And a big rotating module would probably be considered the worst of the worst in that category. You know how Dragon, Cygnus, HTV, (and previously ATV) are berthed by the robotic arm because they which docking is an unnecessary risk. This although hundreds of dockings have been made with AFAIK only one serious accident, the MIR-Progress collision in 1997.
    Dramatization below: “They turned the radar off…”

  • Steve Earle

    Not an Engineer here, but if I were designing such a thing I would probably make it a double module with two counter-rotating centrifuges made to cancel each others effects out.

    I would also make the docking mechanism with some sort of shock absorbers or dampeners to keep any left over vibrations from being transmitted to the rest of the station.

    Just thinking out loud…. :-)

  • Edward

    The original US space station, Freedom, was designed with free flyers. However, the free flyers were eliminated somewhere during the several budget cuts and redesigns, the eventual inclusion of other nations in order to spread around the costs, then the inclusion of the Russians in order to keep their rocket scientists from defecting to Iran or North Korea.

    To have free flyers adds complexity to the station and its operations. For instance, two spacewalks are needed to get out to free flyers — one there, one back. So if someone is going to have to suit up twice for each trip, he probably should stay there for a day or two, suggesting the need for additional kitchen, sleeping, and toilet facilities at each free flyer.

    Each time there is a boost of the station to prevent unintended reentry, there would have to be an identical boost for each free flyer, too. And, as LocalFluff suggested, there would be the complication of station-keeping (formation flying) to prevent drifting into or away from the main part of the station.*

    Steve Earle,
    Dampeners would help, but may be difficult to implement. They would have to allow for the forces of the occasional orbital boost.** The exercise machine on the ISS has a method for reducing the vibrations and intermittent motions, so the concept is not new, just interesting to develop and implement for individual modules. Counter rotation helps, and many motion mechanisms on spacecraft do this with their motors or other moving parts (one-time deployments are an exception).

    Imbalances can be a problem, though they can be compensated for by using a liquid balancing system that flows around the centrifuge in order to compensate for the imbalance. But then, it introduces yet another potential fluid leak into the manned cabin.

    This seems to show that there can be an advantage to having multiple Bigelow (or other) space stations/habitats, one for a centrifuge or three, others that can have better microgravity environments. This may also show a disadvantage of having only one large space station for all the different experiments that we want to do in space.

    * LocalFluff’s point about the berthing of the unmanned resupply ships is a response to the problems that the Russians had with their docking mechanisms. Rather than the old way of approaching directly to the station (even the US did this with their docking procedures), at the ISS everything approaches a spot in an orbit just below the station. This way, if control is lost, the approaching ship is unlikely to collide with the station.

    The final approach is in an upward maneuver called “R-Bar” (where R is the orbital radius from the Earth to the ship or station, and “Bar” is an engineering term that means “change,” so the term means a change in the orbital radius).

    ** Thinking more on this idea, a temporary hard-dock during boost operations would likely be acceptable, as the boost already messes up the microgravity on the rest of the station. This dampener-isolation idea may be a nice solution to the remaining problems associated with a centrifuge, other than counter rotating masses, on-the-fly imbalance correction, etc.

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