Whenever a space agency or private enterprise needs their newly-manufactured spacecraft tested, they turn to NASA’s Plum Brook Station testbed. Operated by NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Plum Brook is where space vehicles are tested to the brink of failure in order to ensure success during their primary missions.
Space is harsh, so in order to create the ultimate testing center the folks at Plum Brook have constructed a number of testing areas, all with different purposes to simulate the immense challenges that spacecraft face during their missions. Two of these facilities are the best in the world at what they’re designed to do, so let’s take a quick look at what makes them so special!
The Space Power Facility (SPF) at Plum Brook is the world’s largest environmental simulation chamber, measuring 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter by 122 feet (37 meters) high. Fulfilling its purpose as an environmental chamber, the SPF can create some of the harshest conditions that a spacecraft is likely to face outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
The SPF can sustain a high vacuum (10-6 Torr), hold an inside temperature as low as -320 °F (-195 °C), bombard a rocket fairing with acoustic vibrations (using 36 enormous speakers!) similar in magnitude to those experienced during launch and re-entry, and simulate intense solar radiation via a 4-Megawatt quartz heat lamp array. The conditions in this testbed are a spacecraft’s worst nightmare, but passing these harsh tests ensure that the vehicle is ready to be launched.
Shifting our focus inside the Earth’s atmosphere, we come to the Spacecraft Propulsion Research Facility, commonly known as the B-2 Facility. This section of Plum Brook is used for testing high-altitude, upper-stage launch vehicles and rocket engines. Dynamic solar radiation as well as low ambient pressures and temperatures can all be simulated in this chamber, making it the only facility in the world capable of testing launch vehicles in high-altitude conditions. The B-2 facility allows testing of engines and rockets producing up to 400,000 pounds of thrust and can facilitate up to 14 minutes of continuous test-firing in a single session.
Since 2007, NASA has spent $150 million to upgrade Plum Brook. Once a World War II explosives complex, Plum Brook now serves NASA, its private industry partners like SpaceX, and foreign space agencies such as the European Space Agency in their continuing efforts to explore and innovate. With recent improvements, Plum Brook is now a premier vehicle testing center for the entire space industry.
Space exploration is tough, but with the great work being done at places like Plum Brook Station, NASA and its partners have been able to launch many successful missions and continue to enable the future of space exploration. Let’s continue this fantastic trend of innovation and show our support for NASA! Take action by writing to congress here: http://www.penny4nasa.org/take-action/
Check out a video of one of SpaceX’s rockets inside the Space Power Facility! http://goo.gl/1706b