China successfully launched its SJ-10 research mission on 5th April on board a Long March 2D rocket from the Juiquan site in the Gobi desert. Sj-10’s return capsule will return to Earth in Si Chuan province in two weeks’ time, while an orbital module will remain in space to conduct further experiments.
Among the innovative experiments on SJ-10 is a joint European/Chinese experiment designed to investigate the behaviour of oil reservoirs buried kilometres underground. The experiment — involving containers of highly pressurized crude oil onboard the satellite — is a partnership between ESA, China’s National Space Science Centre, France’s Total oil company and China’s PetroChina oil company.
The “Soret Coefficient in Crude Oil” experiment will measure how hydrocarbon molecules redistribute when the temperature is not uniform. Learning how complex liquids behave is of interest to the petroleum industry and academia, who can apply the data to model real-life conditions of oil reservoirs deep underground. These measurements can only be performed in weightlessness.
The experiment consists of six small titanium cylinders (photo), each containing just one millilitre of crude oil but compressed up to 500 times normal pressure at sea level on Earth – making it one of the highest-pressure items ever launched into space. One end of each cylinder is warmed while the other end is cooled. Before returning to Earth, a valve is closed to prevent the liquid from remixing during reentry.
A specialist company, Sanchez Technology in France, worked for the prime contractor QinetiQ Space in Belgium. The electronic unit was developed and built by the Shandong Institute of Aerospace Engineering at Yantay.
The experiment passed testing with the SJ-10 spacecraft at the China Academy of Space Technology in Beijing, China last year – including thermal cycling to reproduce the extreme changes in temperature the experiment will be subjected to during its orbits of Earth, as well as vibration and shock testing to simulate launch and reentry.
ESA and QinetiQ staff completed a four-day drive to the remote launch site in Gansu province to deliver the 8.5kg flight unit.