The microgravity environment for experiments on the International Space Station

J Gravit Physiol. 2004 Mar;11(1):1-10.


Experiments are sent to space laboratories in order to take advantage of the low-gravity environment. However, it is crucial to appreciate the distinction between the real microgravity environment and "weightlessness" or "simulated microgravity". The microgravity in space laboratories may be of much smaller magnitude than the gravitational acceleration on earth. However, it is not zero, nor even one microg (defined as 1e-6 earth gravity). Moreover, the orientation is not uniaxial, as on earth. The net acceleration that acts on a space experiment arises from, e.g., orbital mechanics, atmospheric drag, and thruster firings, and it can act on the experiments in gravity-like ways. In essence, a well-defined, stable 1 g acceleration on the earth's surface is substituted for a complex array of dynamically changing accelerations with ever-changing frequency content, magnitude and direction. This paper will show measured accelerations on the Shuttle from launch to orbit, as well as the latest measurements on the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS data presented here represent over 34,790 hours of data obtained from June 2002 to April 2003 during Increments 5 and 6 of the ISS construction cycle. The quasisteady acceleration level on the ISS has been measured to be on the order of a few microg during time allotted to microgravity mode. The vibratory acceleration environment spans a rich spectrum from 0.01-300 Hz.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration*
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Environment, Controlled
  • Gravity, Altered
  • Laboratories
  • Space Flight / instrumentation*
  • Space Flight / statistics & numerical data*
  • Spacecraft / instrumentation*
  • Vibration*
  • Weightlessness*