NASA has a giant vibrating table to ensure Orion launch safety: How does it work?


A vibrating table is one of the tools NASA intends to use in order to ensure safety aboard the Orion spacecraft, due to take Americans to the International Space Station (ISS) and beyond.

The Space Power Facility at the Glenn Research Center at Plum Brook Station in Sundusky Ohio, received the 22-foot table, weighing 55,000 pounds. The devices uses 16 horizontal and four vertical actuators, in order to replicate the effects of launching aboard Orion's booster, which will deliver 8.6 million pounds of thrust. Designed using many of the same principles utilized to engineer large buildings in California, it is the most powerful shaker system designed for spacecraft.

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will be the most powerful booster currently in existence anywhere in the world.

"Launch is the most dynamic and dangerous part of spaceflight. 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," Jerry Carek, Space Power Facility manager, said.

Launch and escape procedures will each be tested on the Orion spacecraft. The crew compartment is capable of separating from the rocket on the launch pad or early in flight, quickly pulling space travelers a mile away from the vehicle in the event of an emergency.

The first test for the Orion spacecraft is scheduled for Dec. 4, 2014, when the vehicle will be lifted into space on top of a Delta 4 Heavy rocket. If vibration tests utilizing the new table are not successful, NASA officials will have little chance to modify the craft. The second test, which will see the vehicle attached to the mighty SLS booster, is scheduled for spring 2015. Four more test flights are scheduled following that launch.

A European-designed service module will be the first vehicle to be tested on the new vibrating table. That craft will later be placed into space during Orion's second mission, Exploration Mission-1.

The Space Power Facility also houses the world's most powerful acoustic testing chamber for aircraft, as well as the largest vacuum chamber.

"The Orion program was looking for a place to do some one-stop shop testing. That's what this facility is. We can completely simulate the environment Orion will see during spaceflight," Nicole Smith, project manager for Orion testing at Glenn Research Center, stated in a NASA press release.

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