First-Ever Swiss Mechanical Watch Testing in Microgravity
In the first-ever test of its kind, Witschi Electronic was on board a parabolic flight in September to measure the timing and amplitude effects of weightlessness and hyper-gravity on mechanical watch movements. The invitation was extended by Swiss Manufacture H. Moser & Cie, which had arranged to take complete watches and watch movements on one of the first-ever Swiss parabolic flights. H. Moser & Cie CEO, Edouard Meylan, participated in the testing with his team, including members of their sister company Precision Engineering AG, and a development engineer from Witschi. The 30 watches and manufacture movements provided were equipped with in-house oscillator and escapement components. The testing was done to gather data about using new materials in escapements and hairsprings, as well as different hairspring end curves, varying frequencies, and lubrication. H. Moser & Cie produces about 1,200 watches per year, while Precision Engineering AG produces 50,000 escapements and oscillators per year. The company expects the data compiled during the testing to improve the development process and isochronous performance of their timepieces. They also expect to achieve several new patent applications.
The watches were tested by Witschi using a custom-built Chronoscope MR featuring 10 individual microphones mounted on a single rack connected to two laptop computers. A lot of planning and preparation went into setting up the instruments. The equipment had to be secured to the aircraft floor to prevent anything from shifting around and becoming a safety hazard. They also built a special soundproofing hood to protect the microphones from the incredibly loud aircraft noise as well as vibrations that could disturb or skew the readings.
The first Swiss-based parabolic flights were launched on September 21 and 22, 2015. The Dübendorf military airfield is only the second European location to offer the microgravity experience. The University of Zurich and the French company Novespace are working together to offer the flights. The first day of flights consisted mostly of scientific experiments, while the second day offered flights to anyone willing to pay nearly $10,000 for a 90-minute experience. Each flight can accommodate up to 40 people.
Traditionally used by space agencies to train astronauts, a parabolic flight is a way of creating near-weightlessness using fixed-wing, reduced-gravity aircraft specifically modified to perform repeated parabola, named for the trajectory the aircraft takes during the flight path. Each parabola lasts 65 seconds. First the aircraft climbs at a 45-degree angle, creating almost twice the force of gravity for 20 seconds. The pilot then levels off the aircraft at the top of the arc of the parabola, creating microgravity and a feeling of weightlessness for 25 seconds until the aircraft begins to descend again at a 45-degree angle. During each 90-minute flight, the pilot performs the maneuver 15 times for a total of around six minutes of space-simulating conditions.