NASA’s Space Power Facility Getting Ready to Shake Orion Up



A 22-foot-wide, 55,000-pound vibration-simulating table is lowered into place at the Space Power Facility in Sandusky, Ohio. Image courtesy NASA.
What does it feel like to sit on top of a rocket with 8.6 million pounds of thrust? A table in Sandusky, Ohio, could give you a taste. The 22-foot-wide, 55,000-pound vibration-simulating table was delivered to Glenn Research Center’s Space Power Facility at the Plum Brook Station in Sandusky this week.
It uses four horizontal servo-hydraulic actuators and 16 vertical to vibrate the table in such a way that a spacecraft set on top of it would experience the same amount of shaking that it could expect when launching on top of a rocket.
It’s a valuable asset for a spacecraft like Orion, which on its second mission will be launching on top of a rocket more powerful than any currently in existence – NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket.
“Launch is the most dynamic and dangerous part of spaceflight,” said Jerry Carek, Space Power Facility manager.
“It takes an incredible amount of power for a rocket to boost a spacecraft like Orion into space. And all that power results in intense shaking. Spacecraft systems have to be specially designed to work in spite of the vibration – this table lets us test them to make sure that they do.”
The table is just the newest addition to the Space Power Facility, which is also home to the world’s largest vacuum chamber and the world’s most powerful acoustic testing chamber for spacecraft. With this delivery, it now counts itself home to the world’s highest capacity and most-powerful spacecraft shaker system, as well.
“The Orion program was looking for a place to do some one-stop shop testing,” said Nicole Smith, project manager for Orion testing at Glenn.
“That’s what this facility is. We can completely simulate the environment Orion will see during spaceflight.”
Orion testing at the facility will begin with the European Space Agency-built service module that will fly on Orion’s second mission, Exploration Mission-1.
It will also be used to verify that Orion’s crew module can sustain the vibrations of not only launch, but a launch abort, when the Orion launch abort system would be used to pull the crew module away from an emergency on the launch pad or in the early stages of ascent. If necessary, it can carry the crew to a peak height of about one mile at 42 times the speed of a drag race car.
A total of five Orion tests are already planned, with the first one targeted for next spring.