The properties of structural materials are to a large extent determined by the solid microstructure so that the understanding of the fundamental physics of microstructure formation is critical in the field of materials engineering. A directional solidification facility dedicated to the characterization of solid-liquid interface morphology by means of optical methods has been developed by CNES in the frame of the DECLIC project. This device enables in situ and real time studies on bulk transparent materials. The aim of the project is to perform experiments in microgravity to eliminate the complex couplings between solidification and convection and to get reliable benchmark data to validate and calibrate theoretical modeling and numerical simulations. Presently, ground experiments are performed to finalize the design and the experimental procedures and to guarantee the accuracy of the measurements. These experiments also provide reference data for the study of solidification microstructure dynamics in the presence of buoyancy-driven natural convection. Recent progress is presented concerning the control of the interface shape (critical for pattern analysis), the selection of single crystal of defined orientation (critical for dendritic growth) and the analysis of the dendrite shape.