Paper Boomerang will be Tested on Space Station

Article Updated: 26 Dec , 2015

You know this is a burning question on the minds of eight-year olds everywhere: if you threw a boomerang in zero-gravity, would it come back to you? Japanese astronaut Takao Doi plans to test this very premise when he travels to the International Space Station in March 2008.

Doi plans to bring a paper boomerang to the ISS to test whether it will perform the trick of returning to the thrower in zero-gravity. He reportedly decided to test the boomerang at the behest of Yasuhiro Togai, a world boomerang champion from Osaka, Japan. With the announcement that a paper airplane will be launched from the ISS, space is beginning to look like an unruly high school classroom. But these experiments aren’t all fun and games, as there are underlying physical principles that can be explored by such simple tests.

A returning boomerang – when thrown properly – will travel in a circular path which brings it back around to the thrower. The two (or three) fins of a boomerang are shaped like an airplane wing, so when thrown the shape provides lift and causes the boomerang to fly.

Boomerangs fly in a circle because of the lift provided by the leading fin of the boomerang. Because it is spinning around a central axis, one fin provides lift in the direction of travel, then the other does the same. This force in the same direction makes the path of the boomerang form a circle, and as it loses energy because of the pull of gravity the boomerang comes back down to the ground.

Now, the question remains as to what will happen if the force of gravity is not present. The zero-gravity environment of the ISS is a perfect place to test this. The atmosphere of the ISS will still allow the boomerang to generate lift, but will it return to the sender, bounce off the walls, or just spin in place?

Source: Space Travel report

23 Responses

  1. The 327th Male says:

    Methinks they’ll need to build a bigger space station to test this one properly.

    Hmmm. My prediction, assuming ample space, is that the boomerang will fly in a circle. Wind resistance will slow its spin, causing the circle to get wider and wider, eventually flying off in a straight line.

  2. Jo says:

    i think that without wind resistance, which causses lift, and gravity, the outcome won’t be anything like here on earth

  3. Jo says:

    it should simply spin away

  4. Daniel says:

    Is the boomerang to be thrown inside of the space station?

  5. Kevin says:

    Wind resistance? There is a breathable atmosphere on the Space Station just like here on earth, so that should be a mute point. No wind either, but that is also irrelevant.

    Gravity is the question here.

  6. Kevin says:

    Yes it is being thrown inside the station. That is made clear at the bottom of the article.

    What rationale are you using to predict that the boomerang should simply spin away?

  7. Col Maybury says:

    When an Australian boomerang is thrown it is aimed vertically, slightly upwards and 45 degrees off the wind. By the time it is horizontal it is in the direct line of the wind to the thrower. As it loses lift it is returned by the following wind. So, you do need a wind. A wind less than 5 kms per hour. That is my observation. No wind no return?

  8. Johnny Blues says:

    My vote: given enough space (currently not available in the ISS) to fly within an air filled enclosure, lift would cause the boomerang to keep rising upwards in wider circles as air resistance slows down the rotation. The boomerang would end up high above and far away from the thrower, stopped dead in its continously widening arc. And, given a proper send off, the thrower will remain at the center of each widening spiral upwards.

  9. Rev. says:

    Guess it final… inhabitants of the ISS will be playing “boomarang” along with ther “ping pong” activities.

    Bet you could just ask any of the aborigines’ tribal leaders in Australia, and they’d give you the answer.

  10. Col Maybury says:

    Here you are Rev perhaps this is truth?

    If you have the option, avoid throwing in anything over moderate wind. Some boomerangs need a small amount of wind to return completely, but most do not. Rain generally has little effect on boomerangs in flight, but ensure any such boomerang has been sealed against moisture, and remember to dry your hand and the boomerang before each throw, to maintain your grip. And at the other end of the scale, don’t forget the sunscreen!

  11. The 327th Male says:

    You might be right about the lift johnny, I hadn’t thought of that. I doubt the thrower would be at the centre though – they’d be at the edge of the first circle.

  12. Johnny Blues says:

    Hmm 327th Male, now I’m wondering about the exact flight characteristics of a boomerang without gravity. I still say the thrower will be at the center of the flight path because there wouldn’t be a “catcher” with no gravity to counteract the lift. But – would the flight pattern be circular, eliptical or even a figure “8”?

    Kathy, they had that TV show long ago about trying to get back to earth with spare junk. It was called Lost In Space, lol.

    This experiment does have a potentially practical application if you are wanting to design the best shape for a wing using solar wind as its energy source. But, it does seem logical to just use computer modeling. In the end, it is a mathematical problem.

  13. Kathy Kundalini says:

    One way to make sure the boomerang would come back would be to go outside the Space Station and throw it with enough velocity to put it into orbit around the Earth….Oh wait, it already is in orbit, well still, throw it hard enough to make it fly around the Earth and catch up with the Station, perhaps hitting someone in the back of the head.
    Now, how about testing to see if a yo-yo works in zero gravity? This would give new meaning to the “around the world” stunt.
    Or what about testing a hula-hoop? This would not only pay-off with an abundance of scientific data, but would help keep the researcher-astronauts in shape, and happily occupied. Nice way to lose that touch of flabbiness around the midsection…
    Actually, how about a frisbee-catching dog experiment? You know, throw the frisbee and the dog chases it and leaps up to catch it in its mouth. Then, in zero gravity, the dog just keeps flying through space and crashes into the wall of the Space Station, much to the amusement of everybody. I’m not sure what the scientific purpose would be, but it would still be funny, at least for the sadists on board.
    Actually, how about engineering a line of jet propelled skateboards, and you could have a three dimensional skateboard track looping around inside of something like a spherical room?…But then, why stay inside?…The astronauts could “jetboard” around the outside of the Station, or on the exterior of the Space Shuttle — you know, a little visual excitement to get the kids involved in the Space Program..Eventually we could have a spaced-out version of the X-Games — on the Moon — using giant craters for jetboard runs, and you could do cool tricks, like jumping from one crater to another, flying for hundreds or thousands of feet at a time. The finale would be a race where the contestants gain enough speed to leap out of a crater and put themselves in orbit — the first contestant around the Moon wins. The trick would be to be able to launch at a speed and trajectory that doesn’t overwhelm the moon’s gravity and send you flying out into space. For those who do fly away, there could be high-speed tracker vehicles to (hopefully) catch the wayward contestants –using giant nets. In fact, this could be another contest to see who can net the most jetboarders. It would sort of like roping baby steers at a rodeo, only on a grander scale….Or how about a televised science series, where contestants are placed on the Moon with giant piles of discarded materials from rocket construction sites, and barrels of various chemicals, oxygen and water supplies, computers, used space suits, and whatever, who knows, and a supply of high-tech tools — and the contest would be to see who can get back to the Earth first, using the materials on hand.
    Oh the possibilities! Please someone… give me some funding!

  14. alphonso richardson says:

    Air resistance would still be a factor as there is an atmosphere on the space station (luckily for the crew).
    Could think of this all day.

  15. follick says:

    This doesn’t seem so complicated. It’s flight will be curved in a direction normal to its rotation. 90 degrees from the plane of it’s level flight on Earth. It will sort of look as if it rising like a helicopter. It will still curve in its typical direction as well.

    Think of a helicopter. The boomerang and helicopter operate on the same principles. Except that the helicopter also has a small secondary rotor on its tail to counteract the torque that makes the boomerang go around in a circle, since it is generally considered a bad idea to have a helicopter that just flies around in circles.

    I do think that without gravity, the boomerang will have to be even more carefully balanced and thrown to avoid tumbling, since gravity, acting equally on all parts of the boomerang, tends to stabilize it a little.

  16. N Stone says:

    this is so dumb! Of course it won’t come back!
    Hello! Its a vacuum!!!!!

  17. N Stone says:

    sorry, got to remember to be open minded

  18. The boomerang being thrown on the ISS is a roomerang which I designed!!!! It is not paper it is .020 polystyrene. It was thrown in the space Shuttle on flight 51 in 1993. It comes back just fine, right back to the thrower in almost zero G. The boomerang can be tuned to fly in any condition. You can contact me with any questions you might have regarding the behavior in space.
    I hold 4 world records on the USA Boomerang team, and own the worlds largest boomerang collection at over 15,000. Gary M Broadbent Canton, Ohio

  19. royce says:

    i think it will fly like a poo

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