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Overhead view of shroud separation test setup in the SPF C-2011-4529: Post construction photos of the Space Power Facility, SPF, Space Environment Testing, SET, Mechanical Vibration, MVF, and Reverberant Acoustical Test, RATF


The Space Power Facility (SPF) houses the world’s largest and most powerful space environment simulation facilities. The Space Simulation Vacuum Chamber is the world's largest measuring 100 ft. in diameter by 122 ft. high. The Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility (RATF) is the world's most powerful spacecraft acoustic test chamber, and the Mechanical Vibration Facility (MVF) is the world's highest capacity and most powerful spacecraft shaker system. The SPF is located at the NASA Glenn Research Center, Plum Brook Station, in Sandusky, Ohio. This website provides information on the capabilities of this facility and the supporting infrastructure. The facility is available on a full-cost reimbursable basis to government, universities, and the private sector.

Space Power Facility Rendering

Space Simulation Vacuum Chamber

The vacuum chamber was designed and constructed to test both nuclear and non-nuclear space hardware in a simulated Low-Earth-Orbiting environment. Although the facility was designed for testing nuclear hardware, only non-nuclear tests have been performed throughout its history. Some of the test programs that have been performed at the facility include high-energy experiments, full-scale rocket-fairing separation tests, Mars Lander system tests, deployable Solar Sail tests and International Space Station hardware tests.

The chamber can sustain a high vacuum (10-6 torr); provide an optically-tight, high-emissivity, thermal background environment of -250 °F to +140 °F within the 40-foot diameter by 40-foot high variable-geometry cryogenic shroud. The facility can also provide power systems and thermal controllers for customer-provided thermal heaters or solar simulators.

The vacuum chamber has a volume of 22,653 m3 (800,000 ft3) and measures 30.5 m (100 ft) in diameter and 37.2 m (122 ft) high with 15.2 m (50 ft) by 15.2 m (50 ft) loading doors on each side leading to highbays. The chamber features all aluminum construction, including a removable polar crane with an 18.1 MT (20 ton) critical lift trolley and a 9.1 MT (10 ton) auxiliary hook, and a removable, reconfigurable, cryoshroud system. The chamber cryoshroud system can provide both warm and cold thermal background environment, data acquisition, and test monitoring capabilities. The vacuum chamber is surrounded by an equal-volume concrete enclosure which is typically reduced in pressure to 20 torr during chamber operations.

The vacuum chamber incorporates several electrical and instrumentation penetrations, and several blank penetrations at various locations around the chamber perimeter. Removable rail tracks in the chamber can be used in conjunction with rail dollies or the cryoshroud floor(s) to transport hardware or test articles through the facility and chamber. The facility provides a visually-clean environment. The chamber provides an empty-chamber vacuum capability of 2×10–6 torr using a combination of roughing pumps and high-vacuum equipment. The roughing system consists of two identical 5-stage, parallel trains of rotary-lobe blowers and rotary-piston mechanical pumps, which pump the chamber and annulus simultaneously to 20 torr, and subsequently the chamber only to 30 mtorr. High-vacuum is achieved using 5 turbomolecular pumps and 10 cryogenic pumps. The chamber can reach a vacuum level of 2×10–6 torr in less than 8 hr.

The facility uses a removable, reconfigurable, cryoshroud for background heating and cooling. The cryoshroud is warmed and cooled using a recirculating gaseous nitrogen system. The system utilizes compressor heat-of-compression to provide up to 60 °C (140 °F) wall temperatures, and a heat exchanger/liquid-nitrogen desuperheater to provide temperatures down to –160 °C (–250 °F). The facility is in the process of installing the 'baseline' cryoshroud configuration, a 12 m (40 ft) diameter by 12 m (40 ft) high cylinder centered in the chamber. The chamber provides in-chamber 'low-power' connections and closed-loop controls for up to 33 channels of 1200 W heater power, and is in the process of installing additional 'high-power' connections and closed-loop controls for up to 10 channels of 50,000 W heater power.

Data is acquired at the vacuum chamber via the Mobile Data Acquisition System (MDAS), a 256-channel high-speed digital system.

Chamber Parameters
Test Pressure <2×10–6 torr
Cryoshroud Temperature –160 °C to 60 °C (–250 °F to 140 °F)
Chamber Pumping Speed 500,000 liter/sec at 10–6 torr
Instrument Penetrations (Varies by Test)
Type 'T' Thermocouple 540
Multi-Alloy Thermocouple 102
37-Pin Connectors 129
BNC Coaxial Connector 126
Ethernet 6
Multi-Mode Fiber 12
Physical Characteristics
Chamber Diameter 30.48 m (100 ft)
Chamber Height 37.18 m (122 ft)
Chamber Volume 22,653 m3 (800,000 ft3)
Blank ports 3 each, 0.5 m dia.
Blank ports 10 each, 0.68 m dia. (alternately used for high-power feed-through)
Blank ports 1 each, 0.68 m dia.

Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility (RATF)

The RATF chamber is located within the Vibroacoustic Highbay, taking advantage of the 1.8 m (6 ft) thick surrounding concrete walls to help attenuate sound migration through the SPF. The highbay also serves as redundant protection from the RATF nitrogen atmosphere during operation. The RATF is a 2,860 m3 (101,189 ft3) reverberant acoustic chamber capable of achieving an empty-chamber acoustic overall sound pressure level (OASPL) of 163 dB. The facility structure is designed for a future upgrade to 166 dB OASPL, including areas in the horn room wall which have been left blank for future installation of additional modulators/horns. The RATF includes various supporting sub-systems including gaseous nitrogen generation system, horn room with acoustic modulators and horns, acoustic control system, and hydraulic supply system. Test articles are mounted onto elevated customer-provided mounting fixtures for testing. The chamber has been constructed with load-bearing wall attachments for future installation of a 5-ton interior bridge crane. The chamber can be operated as a Class 100,000 clean room once the access doors are closed and the facility is cleaned. The combinations of servo-hydraulic and electro-pneumatic noise modulators utilize gaseous nitrogen capable of producing a tailored wide-range of acoustic spectrums in the frequency range from 25 to 10,000 Hz. The RATF chamber internal dimensions are 11.4 m (37.5 ft) wide by 14.5 m (47.5 ft) deep by 17.4 m (57 ft) high.

A photograph of the RATF horn wall is shown below at left, and the overall chamber is shown at right.

RATF horn wall (left) and overall chamber

A maximum of 19 control microphones can be placed around the test article for closed-loop control using the Acoustic Control System (ACS). The ACS, control microphones, or other response instrumentation (accelerometers, microphones) may be input into the Analog Abort System (AAS) to provide automatic shutdown capability. Each of twenty-three (23) servo-hydraulic acoustic modulators is coupled with individual horns of six different cut-off frequencies. Each of thirteen (13) electro-pneumatic acoustic modulators is coupled with individual horns of one cut-off frequency. This combination of modulators and horns provides for an extremely variable and tailored acoustic spectrum. Threaded inserts are located in the floor for attachment of test article mounting fixtures.

The East side of the chamber has a large rolling door and hinged door to provide access to the chamber up to 10.5 m (34.5 ft) in width. A 5.5 m (18 ft) wide by 4.2 m (14 ft) high door is located on the West side of the chamber for loading equipment when the vacuum chamber is occupied.

The Vibroacoustic Highbay is secured and support systems (hydraulics, compressed air, liquid nitrogen, gaseous nitrogen, HVAC systems, and video systems) are setup and energized. A watchdog Facility Control System (FCS) monitors these sub-systems and ensures that all permissives and interlocks are verified. The acoustic chamber is filled with a predetermined level of gaseous nitrogen. The FCS verifies that a matching modulator selection file agrees with the ACS and subsequently provides a Run Permit to the ACS. The ACS performs a self-check and the operator initiates testing using the tailored choice of modulators/horns. The nitrogen generation system automatically vaporizes liquid nitrogen into gaseous nitrogen as required up to 1,981 standard cubic meters per minute (70,000 scfm). At the conclusion of testing, fresh air is force-ventilated into the chamber via the HVAC system to purge the chamber of nitrogen for safe entry. Temperature, humidity and oxygen monitors are located in the chamber and highbay.

Data is acquired at the RATF via the Facility Data Acquisition System (FDAS), a 1,024-channel high-speed digital system.

The RATF has been tested up to a maximum OASPL of 161 dB, and is currently undergoing characterization checkout testing in preparation for customer testing in early 2013. The following are various characteristics of the acoustic facility.

Team Mk VI modulators 12
Team Mk VII modulators 11
Wyle WAS5000 modulators 13
Horns 36
Max. Empty-chamber SPL 163 dB OASPL
Frequency Range 25 Hz to 10 KHz
Physical Characteristics
Chamber Dimensions 14.5 by 11.4 by 17.4 m (47.5 by 37.5 by 57 ft H)
Chamber Volume 2,860 m3 (101,189 ft3)
Crane Capacity 18,143 Kg (40,000 lb)
Floor Loading 54,422 Kg (120,000 lb)
Blank Penetrations 25 at 0.15 m (6 in.) dia., 2 at 0.20 m (8 in.) dia.

Mechanical Vibration Facility (MVF)

The Mechanical Vibration Facility (MVF) is a 3-axis, 6 degrees of freedom, servo-hydraulic, sinusoidal base-shake vibration system located within the same Vibroacoustic Highbay as the RATF on the West side of the vacuum chamber. The proximity to the RATF allows shared use of the hydraulic system, safety systems, high-speed data acquisition system, and surveillance system. The MVF system consists of reaction mass, four horizontal servo-hydraulic actuators, sixteen vertical servo-hydraulic actuators mounted on double spherical couplings, aluminum table, hydraulic supply system, Table Control System (TCON), Vibration Control System (VCON), and the same Facility Control System (FCS) used by the RATF.

The MVF reaction mass includes an embedded steel plate for modal testing. The 2,100,000 Kg (4,650,000 lb) reaction mass is used to resist the vibratory energy from the hydraulic actuators, table and test article, transferring the energy into the shale bedrock foundation. The reaction mass has been sized such that it has sufficient inertia mass and stiffness to react against the forces applied by the actuator/couplings during sine vibe testing. The reaction mass has been designed to accommodate future growth in vibration system and test article mass. The existing actuator and table design is for sine sweep capability of 0 to 1.25 g's (peak), from 5 to 150 Hz in the vertical axis, and 0 to 1.0 g from 5 to 150 Hz in each of the horizontal axes for a test article mass of 34,000 Kg (75,000 lb) with a center of gravity elevation of 7 m. Currently, the MVF controller is capable of sinusoidal control in three independent axis.

The MVF system design uses a large aluminum table approximately 6.7 m (22 ft) in diameter with a 0.61 m (2 ft) wide annular mounting surface centered about a 5.5 m (18 ft) nominal diameter. Table weight is partially off-loaded from the system via four inflatable airbags. An overhead photograph of the MVF system is shown below:

Overhead photograph of the MVF system

The table vertical actuation is provided by 16 hydraulic cylinder actuators attached to the reaction mass onto which 16 double-spherical couplings are attached. The vertical actuator assemblies provide the controlled vertical sine vibration, enable horizontal vibration, and provide overturning constraints during horizontal vibration. The table rests on the double-spherical couplings. The double-spherical couplings couple each vertical actuator to the table and provide high axial stiffness to deliver the vertical vibratory force during vertical excitation. Each double-spherical coupling has internal pressure sensors to enable the vibe controller to limit forces. Four horizontal actuators provide the controlled horizontal sine vibration and are comprised of two single-ended pistons which maintain outward force through hydrostatic pad-bearings to the table. The horizontal actuator assemblies provide vertical alignment during vertical actuation. The system is designed to permit testing in three independent axis without removing or lifting the test article from the table.

A customer-supplied adapter ring is necessary to attach the test article to the vibration table mounting holes. The Vibroacoustic Highbay is secured and support system (hydraulics, compressed air, life safety, video, and table mode) are setup and energized, and interlocks are verified (including vibratory mode-choice setup) using the Facility Control System (FCS). The Table Control System (TCON) and FCS communicate with the table actuator servo-valve drivers, initiate the table to a lifted, centered, ready position, and verify all servo drivers are started and ready. Operators then initiate the Vibration Control System (VCON) to generate the sine wave inputs to the servo valve controllers, establishing vibration. The VCON controller generates drive voltage waveforms for each servo valve driver to satisfy the control and limit channel constraints from the test article (outer-loop control), and each servo valve driver maintains a closed-loop control to each actuator (inner-loop control). The VCON has 64 analog input channels, which can be assigned to control channels, limit channels, or response channels, where the control and limit channels can be set to alarm and/or abort a test. Up to 44 of the analog input channels can be available for test article limit channels.

Plans are in progress to complete the aluminum vibration table and the system verifications to support Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) testing, and possibly sooner if customers require the table prior to MPCV testing dates.

Max. Test article Mass 34,000 Kg (75,000 lb)
Max. Cg above Table 7.2 m (23.6 ft)
Seismic Mass 2,100,000 Kg (4,650,000 lb)
Max. Vertical Static Force 3,203 K-newton (720,000 lb)
Max. Vertical Dynamic Displacement (Pk-Pk) 3.18 cm (1.25 in.)
Max. Vertical Velocity 41.7 cm/sec (16.4 in./sec)
Max. Lateral Static Force 1,139 K-newton (256,200 lb)
Max. Lateral Dynamic Displacement (Pk-Pk) 3.048 cm (1.2 in.)
Max. Lateral Velocity 33.8 cm/sec (13.3 in./sec)
Frequency Range 5 to 150 Hz
Sine Sweep Rate Dwell to 4 octave/min
Physical Characteristics
Table Mounting Bolt-Circle Dia. 518.16, 538.48, 558.8, and 579.12 cm
Max. Test Article Height 23.5 m (77 ft)
Max. Test Article Height below Crane Bridge 20.4 m (67 ft)
Sine Sweep Rate Dwell to 4 octave/min

Data is acquired at the MVF via the Facility Data Acquisition System (FDAS), a 1,024-channel high-speed digital system.

Data Acquisition Systems

The SPF commissioned a new 1,024 channel high-speed Facility Data Acquisition System (FDAS) which serves the RATF facility. The architecture was leveraged to provide a separate, smaller-scale (256-channel) Mobile Data Acquisition System (MDAS) for use with the thermal vacuum chamber. The FDAS system includes test article sensor interface cabling, signal conditioners, data recording, data storage, display, and archive systems.

The FDAS system can provide a minimum of 20 kHz analog bandwidth per channel, for all 1,024 channels. Data is synchronized by an external facility IRIG-B signal. Data is stored within four, 3-Terabyte RAID arrays. The FDAS currently has 800 signal conditioners of the IEPE type for accelerometers or microphone conditioning.

After commissioning the FDAS system, the SPF constructed a close-coupled, 256-channel Mobile Data Acquisition System (MDAS) to measure the high-bandwidth thermal vacuum instrumentation signals using similar architecture to the FDAS. In addition, the thermal vacuum facility has a 512-channel digital temperature scanner system for any thermocouple type, which includes isothermal blocks, A/D conversion, and microprocessor, which outputs temperature data to the MDAS system. The MDAS and FDAS systems have successfully been used as the primary data system for a recent fairing deployment test and acoustic test.

Overall Facility Layout/Configuration

The SPF was originally constructed in 1969 to perform nuclear and non-nuclear testing of large space systems needed for advanced missions beyond low-Earth-orbit. The facility was designed with excess capacity such as extremely large high-bays, doors, power systems, and supporting infrastructure to accommodate expanding test requirements well into the future of the space program. The SPF aluminum vacuum chamber surrounded by the concrete vacuum enclosure is central to the facility. The large east and west chamber doors (15 by 15 m) lead directly into large highbays. The highbay on the East side of the facility, the Assembly Highbay, is primarily used for receiving, assembling, and preparing test hardware. The highbay on the West side of the facility, the Disassembly Highbay, was originally constructed to safely disassemble nuclear components. The recent construction project converted this area into the Vibroacoustic Highbay, housing the Mechanical Vibration Facility (MVF) and the Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility (RATF). North and South of the chamber and highbays are various supporting areas. North of the chamber are the facility control rooms, signal conditioning and instrumentation areas, machine shop, and two-story office building. The office building contains 41 offices and 4 conference rooms. South of the chamber are the electric sub-stations, cryogenics room, vacuum room, and mechanical rooms. The South outdoor courtyard areas behind the SPF support the liquid and gaseous nitrogen storage bottles, vaporizers, and cooling tower.

Below: SPF Plan view and isometric drawing.

SPF Plan view and isometric drawing

Assembly Highbay

Adjacent and East of the vacuum chamber is the Assembly Highbay, primarily used for setup and assembly of test hardware and ground support equipment. The highbay is approximately 75 feet wide by 150 feet long with a clear height under the 25-ton bridge crane of 75 feet. Doors leading outdoors and into the vacuum chamber measure 50-feet by 50-feet. The highbay contains three sets of parallel, standard-gauge rail tracks to permit rolling stock and dolley transport from outdoors, into the assembly highbay, the vacuum chamber, and into the vibroacoustic highbay.

Vibroacoustic Highbay

Adjacent and West of the vacuum chamber is the Vibroacoustic Highbay, which houses the Mechanical Vibration Facility (MVF), a modal floor, and the RATF facility. The highbay has a clear height under the 20-ton bridge crane of 62 feet. Doors into the vacuum chamber measure 50-feet by 50-feet. - Your First Click to the US Government

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Last Updated: June 28, 2017