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Space research

Danish researcher to help shape the future international space station

The International Space Station ISS is soon to retire, and as a replacement, the Gateway space station will be placed in orbit around the moon. Associate Professor Simon Vilms Pedersen from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) will be the only Dane to sit on one of the panels that will recommend which technologies should be onboard.

By Sebastian Wittrock, , 3/15/2024

Since 1998, the International Space Station (ISS) has orbited the Earth at an altitude of 400 kilometers, enabling astronauts from all over the world to explore what it means to work and live in space.

However, by 2030, this will come to an end. The ISS is retiring and is planned to crash somewhere into the ocean.

One of the space stations set to replace the ISS is the Lunar Gateway—or simply Gateway—which will be placed in orbit around the Moon more than 300,000 kilometers from the Earth's surface.

Currently, the European Space Agency (ESA) is working together with NASA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Canadian Space Agency, and the United Arab Emirates' space center to develop and plan the launch of the new space station.

Danish researcher Simon Vilms Pedersen has been invited to participate in this work.

He is an associate professor at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Southern Denmark and researches, among other things, the use of spectroscopy and imaging technology in space. He has been appointed by ESA to sit on a panel—a so-called Facility Definition Team—that will make recommendations on which technologies and scientific facilities should be onboard one of the ESA-led modules on Gateway.

- Before actually building the space station and its facilities onboard, it's necessary to define the scientific goals. That is, what should be possible to do up there?, says Simon Vilms Pedersen.

- This is something researchers from different disciplines will have to figure out. It's an exciting, but also somewhat nerve-wracking task.

On the way to Mars

Gateway will serve as a significantly different space station compared to the ISS.

Since it will be located much further out in space, it can function as an intermediate station for missions to the Moon's surface, but also further out to, for example, Mars.

Also, from a research perspective, being so far from Earth offers entirely different possibilities, explains Simon Vilms Pedersen.

- The ISS is in what we call Low Earth Orbit. That means it is still within Earth's magnetosphere, which shields against some of the conditions found further out in space, says the researcher.

- Gateway will spend a lot of time outside the magnetosphere—closer to something that resembles Deep Space—and that makes it possible to test equipment, materials, and biological systems under more realistic conditions than in space. These are conditions we cannot fully simulate here on Earth.

The size of a bath tub

The panel Simon Vilms Pedersen has joined is called METIS.

It stands for Multifunctional Exposure Test Bed In Deep Space, and it will essentially be a kind of space laboratory for close-to-real-life Deep Space experiments.

- The module itself will not be much larger than a bathtub and will weigh about the same as 25 liters of milk, but it will enable groundbreaking research, says Simon Vilms Pedersen.

First and foremost, the test module can provide us with deeper insights into space.

- It's about satisfying a fundamental curiosity and fascination with space. How do materials and organisms behave when they are far away from Earth? And what can humans endure?, he says.

But this knowledge is also essential if humans are to one day travel far into space and perhaps even live in space.

- And then it turns out that quite often, what we learn from space can also be applied here on Earth, adds the researcher.

The first modules of Gateway are planned to be launched in 2028, with more elements to be added over time.

METIS' work will continue over the next six months, after which the panel will present their recommendations.

Editing was completed: 15.03.2024