CNES’s DECLIC instrument en route to the International Space Station

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First launched in 2009, the DECLIC scientific instrument was recovered and returned to Earth by NASA in 2014 after a five-year stay on the International Space Station (ISS) for maintenance by CNES, which designed and built the instrument. The result of a joint science effort with NASA, DECLIC is now on its way back to the station aboard the Cygnus resupply vehicle successfully sent aloft by an Antares launcher during the night of Monday 17 to Tuesday 18 October. Scheduled to dock with the station during the night of Saturday 22 October, Cygnus is also carrying scientific equipment for Thomas Pesquet’s Proxima mission.

DECLIC (DEvice for the study of Critical LIquids and Crystallization) is a scientific instrument conceived and built by CNES for the ISS. It is a fully fledged mini-laboratory designed to study supercritical fluids and material solidification, in other words fluids in a critical state midway between liquid and gas, as the microgravity environment on the ISS allows materials to be maintained in a state of rest impossible to achieve on Earth.

First launched in 2009 for a five-year mission, DECLIC was recovered and returned to Earth by NASA in 2014 for maintenance by CNES. Components have been replaced and systems refurbished. Full functional tests have been performed on the ground at the CADMOS centre for the development of microgravity applications and space operations in Toulouse, as well as environmental qualification tests.

The French and U.S. DECLIC science communities are looking forward to resuming their work on combustion in supercritical water. Solidification tests will also be performed on a new transparent alloy and research will be pursued on the properties of fluids at their critical point. As well as aiding scientists to determine universal laws of physics, such fundamental research will also enable development of applications like neutralization of toxins or treatment of dangerous organic waste. By studying the shapes of solidification arrays, DECLIC will also help to gain new insights into the generic phenomena underlying mineral, plant and organic growth in nature.

DECLIC’s inserts were conceived and are operated jointly by U.S. and French research laboratories. CNES is working with contributing French research laboratories and tele-operating the inserts for laboratories in both countries from the CADMOS centre in Toulouse. NASA is responsible for transporting DECLIC to the ISS and for operations aboard the station. This research programme will continue up to 2020 and could be extended to 2024 with new scientific objectives and a successor to DECLIC, DECLIC-Evolution, again in
collaboration with NASA.