P14651: Drop Tower for Microgravity Studies


Project Summary Project Information

The original project information was presented to MSD Team P14651 in the form of a Project Readiness Package

For an updated version created by the team after the system design phase, click the following link. Project Proposal

Project Summary

Interest was shown in having a microgravity simulation device somewhere within KGCOE. Microgravity, or apparently weightlessness, can be accomplished on Earth for a few seconds by putting objects in a state of free fall and eliminating all forces except for gravity. This was accomplished by creating a classroom friendly, scaled down and simplified model of NASA’s 132 meter (5.18 second) “Zero-G Facility.” This method, commonly referred to as a drop tower, utilizes a containerless near vacuum chamber in the form of a vertical shaft, so that the object(s) can fall within it under the sole effects of gravity (i.e. no air resistance).

The primary goal of this project is to use the device as a teaching tool for students at varying levels of study. Primarily, middle school and high school students can use the drop tower to experimentally explore the effects of gravity on two objects, such as a ball-bearing and a feather. These objects can be dropped simultaneously in atmosphere and near vacuum environments to demonstrate gravity and air resistance concepts. Also, undergraduates can calculate and then test the effects of aerodynamic drag on various objects at different air pressures. The tower can also be demonstrated for the general public at Imagine RIT, E3 Fair, or other events. In the long run the design could even be modified to suit research needs, such as filming the boiling sites in a falling beaker of water.

The drop tower is nearly 12 feet tall in total and its structure is completely mobile, allowing for use at various locations. It also has a data collection and analysis system to collect data in terms of the objects fall path. This information is used to calculate standard gravity of 9.81 m/s2 with 1% error and the data can also be saved for further analysis. Throughout this web directory you will find the following: description of requirements, concept development, design analysis, final results and much more.

Project Name
RIT Microgravity Drop Tower
Project Number
Project Family
Educational & Research Experiment Devices
Start Term
End Term
Faculty Guide
Charlie Tabb, ctabb@rochester.rr.com
Primary Customer
Dr. Satish Kandlikar, sgkeme@rit.edu, 585-475-6728
Sponsor (financial support)
Dr. Satish Kandlikar, sgkeme@rit.edu, 585-475-6728

Final Design

For a video showing the difference between a feather and a ping pong ball falling in atmospheric vs. vacuum conditions, click the following link:

Drop Tower Demonstration

Test Results

A number of test were performed over the course of the project. These tests can be viewed in detail by clicking the "Build, Test, Document" below in the Table of Contents. Here is a final summary of Customer and Engineering Requirements.

Customer Requirements

Engineering Requirements

Representative LabVIEW Display Output

Customer / Sponsor


Team Members

From Left: Santiago, Yoem, Dustin, Jake, Adam

From Left: Santiago, Yoem, Dustin, Jake, Adam

Member Role Contact
Adam Hertzlin Mechanical Engineer aph6332@rit.edu
Dustin Bordonaro Mechanical Engineer dsb8043@rit.edu
Jake Gray Mechanical Engineer jag8714@rit.edu
Santiago Murcia Mechanical Engineer sxm8190@rit.edu
Yoem Clara Mechanical Engineer yic4270@rit.edu

Table of Contents


Photo Gallery

Planning & Execution

Problem Definition

Systems Design

Detailed Design

Project Review

Photo Gallery

Planning & Execution

Build, Test, Document

Project Review


Technical Paper

Final Presentation


Throughout the course of the project the team sought advice from a range of professionals across a variety of topics. First, we would like to acknowledge our primary customer and sponsor, Dr. Satish Kandlikar. Dr. Kandlikar envisioned the product concept and supplied crucial feedback to the team. Next, we would like to acknowledge our team guide, Mr. Charlie Tabb, who regularly kept the team organized and focused while also providing support and advice at all stages of the design process.

The team would also like to acknowledge to the following faculty members at RIT:

John Bonzo – Waterjetting assistance

Bill Finch – IT support, provided project computer and software

Dave Hathaway – General machining assistance

Robert Kraynik – Welding, machining assistance and design support

Dr. Mark Kempski – LabVIEW and design support

Jan Maneti – Welding and machining assistance

Dr. Harvey Palmer – KGCOE Dean, General design support

Dr. Risa Robinson – General design support

Dr. Michael Schrlau – General design support

Bruce Tolleson – Microfab Technician at Semiconductor & Micro-systems Fabrication Laboratory at RIT, pump support

Dr. Wayne Walter – Release mechanism design support

Prof. John Wellin – Laser, DAQ & LabVIEW support