REXUS/BEXUS – Rocket Experiments for University Students – RWTH Team VIPER


The REXUS/BEXUS program (Rocket Experiments / Balloon Experiments for University Students) is a German-Swedish program that offers students at German universities the opportunity to conduct scientific and technical experiments on rockets and balloons under specific conditions – such as being exposed to cosmic rays or in states of reduced gravity, for instance.

  Viper experiment Copyright: Dennis Keller

REXUS stands for "Rocket Experiments for University Students" and is a collaborative initiative between the German and Swedish Aerospace Exploration Agencies DLR and SNSB.

VIPER – Vaporizing Ice Penetration Experiment on a Rocket – is a team of students from Aachen University of Applied Sciences and RWTH Aachen University, which develops different experiments as part of the REXUS BEXUS program.

First, student teams must submit an experiment proposal for the program. This is followed by a screening of the teams and their experiments at the German Aerospace Center – DLR in Bonn. The selected teams then receive one of the flight tickets for REXUS.

Students create their own aerospace project and independently determine and organize their workflow, which is slated to run for around 18 months. Students are able to incorporate the results of the REXUS project into their Bachelor's, Master's, or doctoral theses. All scientific and technical data required to advance the experiment are always documented. The progress is then assessed in a series of different reviews to guarantee function and airworthiness for potential flight.

VIPER is planning to examine what kind of melting and sublimation processes take place under conditions of micro gravity and high vacuum. In order to do this, the team will analyze the melting process of a heat probe in ice under defined conditions which are similar to those on the icy moon Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. The experiment will take place with the help of a high-altitude research rocket, which is projected to reach a height of approximately 90 km on a parabolic trajectory and will offer a period of zero gravity for around two to three minutes.

During this model experiment, three heat probes with diverse spring force and heating capacity will thus be pressed into an ice probe, where the melting process is to be monitored with the help of temperature and pressure sensors, an optical camera, and an infrared camera. Students are responsible for the experiment from start to finish – from developing it to constructing and testing it. The resulting data and insights will form the basis for future research missions to the icy moon.

A total of 20 experiments could be accommodated on the REXUS rocket, which was set to be launched into space at the Esrange rocket range near Kiruna in northern Sweden in the spring of 2018.

After some initial complications, the rocket was successfully launched in spring 2019. The research results and the rocket launch have been evaluated since then.

Supported by the Hans Hermann Voss Foundation