The Physics
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Angular Speed of a Training Centrifuge

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Zitzewitz, Paul, & Niff, Robert, Merrill Physics: Principles and Problems. Westerville, Ohio: Glencoe, 1995, 153. "The ride has a 2.0 m radius and rotates 1.1 times per second" 66 rpm
Centrifuge: Tech Info, Atlas Aerospace Cooperation, 1997. Technical description centrifuge TSF-7 [excerpt]
Radius of rotation (arm) 7 m
Maximal G-load 20 g
Maximal G-load gradient 7 g/s
Maximal angular velocity 50.7 rot/min
50.7 rpm
Technical description centrifuge TSF-18 [excerpt]
Technical description centrifuge TSF-7 30 g
Maximal G-load gradient 5 G/s
Maximal angular velocity 38.6 rot/min
Length of a shoulder (arm) 18 m
38.6 rpm
G-Lab - advanced high G training, human centrifuge trainer. Aircrew Training Systems - Environmental Tectonics Corporation. "The G-Lab provides the solution for economical and safe high G training. It has a 20 foot arm, onset rates of up to 10G/sec, G levels up to 15Gv, and utilizes a passive roll axis and a fixed pitch axis. It's a proven system which has served air forces the world over for a combined total of 30 in-service training years." 47 rpm
Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979, 182. "The centrifuge looked like a Wild Bolo ride. It had a 50 foot arm with a cockpit on the end of it, and the arm could be whirled around at astonishing speeds, great enough to put up to 40 g's of pressure [sic] on the rider inside the gondola" 48 rpm
Lawson, Ben and Stephanie Sides. Chapter 6:Virtual Acceleration: The Role of the Vestibulator Modality. VE Handbook. University of Central Florida. "US NAVY DFS (DYNAMIC FLIGHT SIMULATOR)… up to 30 rpm (pitch & roll rotation)… TRI-AXIAL TILT ROTATION CHAIR… up to 20 RPM, clockwise or counter-clockwise… SLOW ROTATION ROOM… can accelerate the room to 35 RPM in 15 /sec2… CORIOLIS ACCELERATION PLATFORM… Maximum rated velocity of the device is 200 deg/s (33 RPM)… HUMAN DISORIENTATION DEVICE:… Maximum velocity for each axis of 60 RPM, 360 deg/sec… VISUAL VESTIBULAR SPHERE DEVICE:… Angular velocity of the sphere: +- 3 rad/s, +- 28.65 rpm, +- 172 deg/s… Angular velocity of the human subject: +- 6 rad/s, +- 57.30 rpm, +- 344 deg/s" 20-60 rpm

It's every boy's dream to become an astronaut and fly to the moon. Little do they know about the extensive training they would have to go through before actually making it in this business.

So, let's talk about flying a spaceship. One of the things you have to get used to and endure really well is the speed of the aircraft. You'd think, "Well how hard can it be? Can't be more than a couple of times faster than a regular plane." Wrong. During the training sessions, you are put to the ultimate test of unimaginable speeds. This part of the preparation is done in a training centrifuge. The centrifuge is basically a cockpit connected to a metal arm that is in turn connected to a mechanism that spins the gondola around itself in circles. The purpose of such a structure is to protect the crew members against the dangerous affects of high acceleration and rapid movements of the vehicle. Training in centrifuges is also less expensive than training in actual aircraft.

The acceleration of a training centrifuge is measured in "g forces", one g force being equal to the normal acceleration of gravity on earth, 9.8 m/s2. The angular speed can be found by using the following formula:

ω2 = ac/r

ω being the angular speed in radians per second, ac being the centripetal acceleration, and r being the length of the arm of the centrifuge.

The angular speed varies with different arm lengths and the acceleration of different centrifuges. The arm length can be anywhere between 2 meters and 50 feet and accelerations can go as high as 40 g. Imagine accelerating at 40 g and going in circular motion at a speed of about 70 rpm. Not fun.

So before you try to pursue that childhood dream of yours and become an astronaut, just think about the training centrifuge and the numerous hours you'll be spending in it, and maybe reconsider.

Lana Pustilnikova -- 2003