Three-dimensional gravity maps that would allow planes and submarines to navigate in the next century could result from the first complete United Kingdom university experiment on a Nasa space shuttle.
The launch of the Endeavour, expected to return to earth this week, was the culmination of five years' work by about 30 engineering students at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. The proposal won a nationwide competition to send research equipment into orbit that was organised by the Institution of Electrical Engineers and British Sugar.
The project will explore how gravity can be measured in space, testing the strength of gravitational fields at different times during the shuttle's flight.
The experiment involves a cell containing low-viscosity liquid and a small heater element. The team believes gravitational fields will cause convection currents in the liquid, recorded by a camera, with levels of distortion indicating the strength of a gravitational field.