What would you think the Dutch are launching into space this fall? Tulips? Wooden shoes? A van Gogh painting? No, it's water. The small European country that uses dikes to keep the ocean out is now sending water into Earth orbit. Carried aloft as a secondary payload by an Ariane 5 rocket in late September, the diminutive Dutch satellite Sloshsat FLEVO will study the sloshing behavior of water in weightlessness for two weeks.
Spending eight million euros ($9.6 million) to launch a couple of buckets' worth of water might seem excessive. But the work is "of international significance," states project manager Koos Prins of the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory NLR. NASA's asteroid probe NEAR-Shoemaker, for instance, experienced a 13-month delay after the spacecraft unexpectedly put itself into safe mode in December 1998, possibly as a result of propellant slosh. "A better slosh model is needed for future missions," according to the report of an investigation committee. Sloshing liquid, be it propellant or drinking water, may also hamper docking maneuvers of unmanned cargo vehicles servicing the International Space Station.
This article was originally published with the title Sloshing in Space.