Background on Parabolic Flights

The European Space Agency (ESA) maintains an outstanding program to perform zero gravity experiments. It disposes of an enhanced civil airplane to perform so called "parabolic flights" or "sub-orbital zero gravity flights" and annually calls for proposal for outstanting scientific experiments.

The microgravity maneuvers are flown with the Airbus A300 zero-g, a specially equipped aircraft hosted by NOVESPACE at the airport Merignac in France. From a steady horizontal flight, the aircraft gradually pulls up its nose and climbs to an angle of approximately 47 degrees. This preparatory phase lasts for about 20 seconds, during which the aircraft experiences an acceleration of 1.8 g, oriented perpendicularly to the wing plane. The engine thrust is then suddenly reduced to the minimum required to compensate for air-drag, and the aircraft follows a free-fall ballistic trajectory, i.e. a parabola, lasting for approximately 20 seconds, during which weightlessness is achieved. The residual g-jitter of 0.02-0.05 g at typical frequencies of 1-10 Hz.

At the end of the parabolic arc, the aircraft must pull out of the parabolic arc, a maneuver which gives rise to another 20 second period of 1.8 g. Finally it returns to a steady horizontal flight. These maneuvers are flown repeatedly, 31 times per flight day, with a period of 3 minutes between the start of two consecutive parabolas, i.e.\ a 1 minute maneuver phase (20 seconds at 1.8 g, 20 seconds below 0.05 g, 20 seconds at 1.8 g), followed by a 2 minute rest phase at 1 g. After parabolas 6, 11, 16, 21 and 26, the rest interval is generally increased to 6 or 8 minutes to allow experimental adjustments.

More information on parabolic flights and other microgravity platforms can be found at

Last Updated (Tuesday, 28 May 2013 12:20)

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