The research in space offers the possibility for investigations under conditions, which can not, or only partly, be simulated on earth, like the nearly complete absence of the gravity force (microgravity) and the cosmic radiation. From experiments in space, realizations can be derived which would not be accessible under terrestrial conditions. The historical development of the microgravity research in space reaches from the American Skylab at the beginning of the 70s to the International Space Station (ISS), which has been installed since 1998 in the earth’s orbit. Current topics of microgravity research include, among other things (see Seibert et al. 2001):
Current Topics of Microgravity Research
• Changes of the human physiology in space and space medicine,
• Biological processes and biotechnology (cell and molecular biology, plant development, protein crystallization etc.),
• Basic and applied research in physics (crystal growth, fluid physics, plasma and combustion processes etc.).
Microgravity Research that is Relevant to Developing Nanotechnology
The following phenomena, processes and procedures investigated in the context of microgravity research, are also relevant here for nanotechnological developments (see Meier 2000):
• Obtaining exact data for the optimization of process technologies in gas phase synthesis of nanopowders and particles (among other things CVD and flame synthesis).
• Investigation of particle-particle/gas interactions concerning the aggregation in high vacuum, in sprays, in flames and in plasmas.
• Investigation of the formation and stability of nanoemulsions.
• Investigation of thermal transportation phenomena in magnetic liquids.
• Self-organization phenomena.
• Advancement of analytical devices (nano-/micro system engineering, e.g. STM or AFM devices, lab-on-a-chip systems or laser-optical procedures).
Microgravity Research Projects Performed by NASA and the ESA
Concrete research projects in this areas have been accomplished for some years e.g. by NASA in the frame of the PSRD (Physical Sciences Research Division) and the MRD (Microgravity Research Division) programmes, as well as the European Space Agency (ESA) in the frame of the MAP (Microgravity Application Project) programme.