Motion Control & Drives


Space chair automation

December 2019 Motion Control & Drives

The Euro Space Centre adventure park in Transinne in Belgium is home to a number of different simulators, including the original NASA multi-axis chair dating back to the 1960s which was used to familiarise astronauts with the sensation of disorientation. Today, visitors to the park have the chance to tread in the footsteps of the early space pioneers for a few moments. To make this possible, the chair has been automated using the latest technology, with a control system supplied by Siemens. Every child has dreamt of following in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin and discovering space as an astronaut. It has now been made possible to at least experience some of the same sensations, if only for a short time, in the Euro Space Centre. Using simulators, visitors can experience the moonwalk or find out what a disorientation exercise felt like on the multi-axis chair. This chair was used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to prepare astronauts for life in space, and the original is now in operation in Transinne. The former manual control of the chair, which swivels around three axes using two aluminum rings, has now been replaced and automated using the Logo! 8 logic module from Siemens.

Always perfectly oriented

“Our employees always used to have to start the simulator, then regulate the speed, decelerate the chair and stop it using a simple hand wheel,” recalls Catherine Vuidar, marketing manager of the Euro Space Centre. The use of Logo! 8 has not only improved equipment handling for the operators, it has also increased the chair’s steerability, efficiency and safety. Placed in charge of upgrading the chair was the company Heinen, which did the calculating, testing and adjusting of the settings for the new control program. “To improve the system’s safety, we mounted two sensors at precisely defined positions in the simulator,” said head development engineer, Marc Radoux. The sensors are connected to Logo! 8, and ensure optimum positioning of the chair both at the start of the cycle and, most importantly, when stopping. This prevents errors such as the chair coming to a standstill with the visitor upside down.

Additional projects in the pipeline

The turning movement itself is powered by an induction motor with a maximum speed of 3600 revolutions per minute (rpm) which is connected to a frequency control. The current program offers three speed levels – slow, fast and very fast – with up to 30 revolutions of the chair per minute. This is enough to challenge the stomach and equilibrium organ of any test candidate. The chair can be brought to a standstill at any time using an emergency stop button, and the voltage and speed parameters can be viewed in real time at the control system’s display panel throughout the sequence. “The project has been so successful that we’ve actually developed a mobile multi-axis chair, and a third one is currently in progress,” concluded Radoux.


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