Particle physics experiments

Researchers will develop laser modules for experiments with Bose-Einstein condensates on the ISS

At the beginning of December 2021, the project “Development of a laser system for experiments with Bose-Einstein condensates on the International Space Station within the BECCAL payload (BECCAL-II)” started, with the involvement of a team of researchers led by Professor Patrick Windpassinger and Dr André Wenzlawski from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). In collaboration with Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Ferdinand-Braun-Institut (FBH) and Universität Hamburg, researchers will develop a laser system for the BECCAL experiment to study ultracold atoms on board the International Space Station (ISS).

The BECCAL experiment is a multi-user platform that will be open to many national and international scientists to test their ideas in practice. The platform will allow them to conduct a wide range of experiments in areas such as quantum sensing, quantum information and quantum optics.

Transport of the BECCAL payload to the ISS scheduled for early 2026

The ISS offers a unique combination of weightlessness, accessibility and a large number of experiences. This will make it possible, among other things, to carry out high-precision experiments such as testing Einstein’s equivalence principle. “Ideally, the experiments require the cloud of ultracold atoms to be completely free of any force. Weightlessness allows such conditions,” said Dr. André Wenzlawski of the Windpassinger group at the University of Mainz.

The BECCAL experiment succeeds the CAL project, which has conducted numerous experiments on board the ISS since 2018. BECCAL aims to strengthen experimental capabilities on board the ISS, particularly in the fields of precision atom interferometry and manipulation of atoms with optical fields. A further improvement in overall performance is sought by the implementation of new technological approaches for the preparation of atomic sets. The payload is scheduled for launch in early 2026 and will directly replace the CAL device in the ISS Destiny module.

In the subproject, funded to the tune of 3.4 million euros, the group led by Professor Patrick Windpassinger of JGU’s Institute of Physics will work with the University of Hamburg to develop and realize a separation system and switch based on Zerodur and implement it in the BECCAL payload. These developments will build on the results of many previous experiments conducted in microgravity conditions, such as MAIUS, QUANTUS and KALEXUS, in which JGU has participated. “These experiments allowed us to lay the technological foundations to carry out such an extremely complex experiment as well as to carry out the first fundamental tests on the feasibility of the planned experiments”, said Wenzlawski.

The robust laser modules needed for the experiment are supplied by the FBH, which currently manufactures 55 narrowband laser sources. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin is coordinating the integration of these laser modules with the optical beam splitter and switching benches into a compact overall system. The project is funded by the German Space Agency of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, following a resolution of the German Bundestag.