IComp – PoSSUM Student Microgravity Flight Challenge Led by Scientist-Astronaut Candidate Dr. Norah Patten

(in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada)

Irish second level students invited to create an experiment for testing in microgravity

Project PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) will fly a number of microgravity flights in Ottawa, Canada at the National Research Council this October and thanks to a unique partnership with The Irish Composites Centre (IComp) at the University of Limerick, Irish students will play a part on those flights.

We, IComp, are inviting 15-17 year old students to take part in an international effort to further our understanding of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and space exploration. As we move beyond Earth, past low Earth orbit, to the moon and beyond, we need to think creatively about living, working and sustaining life off our planet. This initiative runs parallel to the PoSSUM 13 International Microgravity Flight Challenge, created to celebrate the Mercury 13 and the achievements of women in space science. Students are required to team up, with either a female lead or a minimum of two females per team, and develop ideas for experiments focused on environmental issues.

The October flight itself is planned for 18 parabolas, a curved flight path which provides researchers with an opportunity to test an experiment for 15-20 seconds in microgravity. This truly unique opportunity is made even more special due to the fact that there are humans in the loop; meaning experiments will be handled and controlled by researchers on board. Added to this, the Irish student experiment selected to fly in October will be handled and controlled by a researcher wearing a pressurized intravehicular activity (IVA) spacesuit, which is something that has never been done before.

The competition will remain open until Tuesday May 14th, with all details and terms and conditions below, and submission should be emailed to icomp@ul.ie. The top five (5) entries will be invited to the University of Limerick on Thursday May 23rd to present their experiment and ideas to a panel of experts, where the winner will be selected. The winning team will work with experts at IComp and UL to prepare the experiment for the October flight. This opportunity was made possible thanks to the sponsorship received through IComp, The Bernal Institute, Varicomp and The Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Limerick. For questions regarding any eligibility requirement, please contact us via email: icomp@ul.ie


  • Irish students: 15-17 years of age.
  • Teams of up to four students may apply: requirement to have either (i) female team-lead or (ii) two females per team.
  • Teams require at least one adult mentor.  Mentor can be a parent, teacher, community leader, or a scientist.   
  • Experiment must address an environmental issue


Submit a written proposal and a short video explaining your idea for the experiment. Although the October flight is planned for 18 parabolas, the experiment must be planned for no more than six (6) parabolas:

1.Proposal Submission:

Proposals shall be no more than five pages long and may include drawings describing the experiment.  Please include the following information:

  • Title of the experiment
  • Names and ages of all students and mentors and their roles in the project
  • Name of school, institution, education platform, or program
  • Contact details for mentor (details needed to contact finalists)
  • Include YouTube link to video
  • Short summary or abstract
  • What science question do you want to answer?
  • Why is this science problem important for space exploration or life here on Earth?
  • Why must it be done in microgravity?
  • Is 20 seconds enough time to get useful results?
  • List of equipment/materials (if applicable)
  • Experiment Plan
  • Methodology (design diagrams can be included here)
  • Proposed plan for data collection and analysis
  • Plans for follow on research (if applicable)
  • Video Submission:

Videos must be no longer than two (2) minutes. Upload your video to YouTube (with parent or adult mentor approval) and include a link in your proposal submission. Video format:

  • Introduction of the team
  • Brief description of your experiment idea and why you want to research this in microgravity
  • What excites you about having an experiment flown in microgravity?

Evaluation Criteria:

Your experiment will be evaluated by a team of experts assessing the following categories:

  • Feasibility of the proposed approach (20%)
  • Innovation and Creativity (20%)
  • Relevance of having your experiment in a reduced gravity environment (20%)
  • Teamwork, Leadership, and Communication (20%)
  • Safety compliance – see Experiment Constraints (20%)

Important Dates and Deadlines:

March 21st 2019: Competition is launched

May 14th 2019: Max five page proposal including link to video due: email to icomp@ul.ie

May 17th 2019: Top five (5) entries will be notified

May 23rd 2019: Top five (5) entries attend showcase at University of Limerick to present experiment to a panel of experts. Winner is selected and announced

June – July 2019: Winner works with IComp to prepare payload and documentation (TEDP*) for Integrated Spaceflight Services

October 2019: Inspection at NRC FRL, Integration and Flight Readiness Review (FRR**) at NRC FRL***

*TEDP: Test Equipment Data Package – a document that describes the experimental objectives, hardware, operating procedures, safety checks, and handling/installation instructions.

**FRR: A one-on-one session with the flight engineers, technicians and Scientist-Astronauts to describe the experiment in detail and to demonstrate how the experiment will be performed.

Integration: The process of installing the experiment, e.g. bolting hardware to the aircraft, connecting power cables, etc.

*** NRC FRL: National Research Council’s Flight Research Laboratory

The winning team:

IComp will be acknowledged as the organiser in all events and activities relating to this competition. Credit will also be given to the sponsors on all promotional material. IComp will work with the winning team to prepare the experiment and necessary documentation, ensuring all criteria for PoSSUM and NRC FRL is adhered to.

Experiment Guidelines and Constraints:

General constraints: The flight plan includes 6 parabolas, each consisting of up to 20 seconds of microgravity.  There will be up to three (3) minutes of level flight time between consecutive parabolas, which could be used for setting up experimental procedures by Payload Specialists onboard. Special requirements such as biological lab space, clean rooms, etc. will not be available. It is the team’s responsibility to supply any specialty tools or equipment required for their experiments.

The following guidelines should be followed when designing experiments:

1.Experimental payloads should be designed and built to investigate an environmental issue.

2.Payloads must not be larger than approximately the size of a shoebox.

3.Payload must weigh no more than 5 kg. If using electronics, total power consumption should be constrained below 100 W. Electrical components must be compatible with standard 115VAC/5A/60Hz outlets.

4.If applicable, use only dry cells, zinc-air, alkaline, or Ni-Cad batteries. Electrolyte or lithium-type batteries should be avoided whenever possible.

5.Payloads much be free of materials classified as physical, health or environmental hazards under Canada’s Hazardous Products Act such as high-pressure, toxic, corrosive, explosive and flammable materials.

6.Payloads will be tested on the ground to 9G crash loads.

7.Biological specimens shall not present any risk to mission specialists and should be contained within a sealed space.

Created to honour the legacy of the Mercury 13, the PoSSUM 13 represents thirteen Project PoSSUM Scientist-Astronaut Candidates and Advanced Academy graduates who will serve as global ambassadors in increasing opportunity and representation for students, and especially young women, who have a passion for space science and exploration. Through a combination of educational outreach initiatives and mentorship, our PoSSUM 13 will serve as ambassadors to citizen science. For more information, visit www.projectpossum.org