Redwire’s ICAPS Launches to Help Understand the Formation of Planets in the Early Solar System

On April 24, 2023, Redwire’s Interaction in Cosmic and Atmospheric Particle System (ICAPS) launched to space from the Esrange Space Center in Northern Sweden as part of the TEXUS 58 flight campaign. ICAPS is an instrument that simulates the early stages of planetary formation and enables scientists to study the interactions of micron-sized dust particles and their agglomeration. ICAPS aims to study the dust-dust and dust-gas interactions to provide answers to the following questions:

  • What is the nature of initial growth processes of planets?
  • What is the mass, structure, and motion of small dust aggregates?
  • How did the planets form in the early solar system?

How Does ICAPS Work?
ICAPS recreates the ideal conditions for planets to form. The instrument is a 1.2 m long module that houses a vacuum chamber, an injector of silica particles, and cameras. Scientists can observe how these particles interact while in microgravity. Microgravity conditions are achieved thanks to the sounding rocket, which carries various instruments designed to perform scientific experiments to space. The rocket does not go into orbit, it only needs to provide a few minutes (six in this case) of microgravity and then return to Earth.

The ICAPS instrument (Credit: Redwire)

The TEXUS 58 flight campaign was jointly carried out by the German Space Agency, Airbus Defence & Space, OHB-System, and the Swedish Space Corporation, with financing of the European Space Agency (ESA).

This was the second sounding rocket launch for ICAPS. It previously launched in 2019 and obtained outstanding results. ESA wanted to dive further into the science insights that ICAPS provided and asked the Redwire team to fly the instrument again with a few modifications.

Photo from 2019 taken with Redwire hardware of the dust particles interacting while in microgravity. (Credit: Redwire)

For this most recent suborbital launch, Redwire refurbished the ICAPS hardware to add a light scattering unit to provide additional valuable diagnostics for characterizing the physical properties (size, shape, and porosity) of the aggravates as they grow during the experiment. In addition, ICAPS was modified to meet new science requirements and to increase its capabilities. The software was also updated and additional control modes were added.

Redwire is a leader in microgravity research. Learn more about our technology operating on the International Space Station here. 

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