Monday, September 6, 2010

Launch Equipment Test Facility is Ready for New Business

Kennedy Space Center's Launch Equipment Test Facility, or LETF, is an engineer's paradise. Take huge fixtures capable of simulating launch conditions and a complex data system then add a machine shop and a welding facility, and you get a testbed up to the task of proving launch support equipment will work right every time.

A four-year comprehensive upgrade recently was completed to make sure the testing ground remains at the top of the support system testing pyramid.

Since 1977, the facility has supported NASA's Launch Services, shuttle, International Space Station, and Constellation programs, as well as commercial providers.

"We were continuing to satisfy customer requirements at the same time that we were doing the upgrades," said Pat Simpkins, the director of Kennedy's Engineering Directorate. "That's what is really fascinating about this facility."

On Aug. 27, a team from NASA, ASRC Aerospace and MTS Engineering Consulting Services celebrated the $35 million worth of upgrades.

"It plays a vital role in proof-of-concept testing, prototype testing and operations support," said Eric Ernst, LETF's upgrade project manager.

Pepper Phillips, director of Kennedy's Constellation Project Office, said the upgrade project is proof that "people can count on the Kennedy Space Center for executing what they promised."

Stepping outside the 40-foot-tall high bay doors is a steel playground, equipped with a 600-ton test fixture used for tension and compression testing, a water flow test loop that tests valves, pumps and flow meters, two launch simulation towers and two 15,000-gallon cryogenic towers.

"People who are experts in different areas of science come here, plan their tests months in advance, and I get to learn from them," said Geoffrey Rowe, an engineer with ASRC Aerospace. "It's much better than doing the same thing day-in-and-day-out."

Perhaps most impressive is the new vehicle motion simulator, or VMS, which simulates all of the movements a vehicle could experience from rollout to launch.

"It's like the Tower of Terror!" said Craig Technologies' Sandi Slaughter as she watched the simulator move up and down, right to left, and then around and around, similar to the amusement park ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

According to the engineers who work in the LETF, the possibilities for testing launch equipment are endless.

"We're looking forward to supporting multiple customers for NASA in the future," Ernst said. "Whether it's heavy-lift, horizontal launch systems or commercial providers . . . we really are a multifaceted facility that can support a broad spectrum of customers."

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