Big bang at Plum Brook
Jun 17, 2013 at 12:30 PM
Spacecraft don’t blast off from the NASA Plum Brook Station.
But you might think you are hearing a liftoff in the near future, when loud bursts of noise will emanate from world-class testing facility.
NASA administrators plan to demolish the Cryogenic Propellant Tank Facility, often referred to as the K-Site.
The K-Site can simulate space-like conditions found on the moon, Mars and other upper-atmosphere regions. Tests at the K-Site revolve around large-scale liquid hydrogen experiments for flight-weight fuel tanks and insulation systems in cold temperatures.
Given that the building housing K-Site activity is sorely outdated, NASA administrators have planned a multimillion-dollar project to raze the structure while still preserving its equipment.
“If they were destroying the test equipment, then I think it would be a mistake,” said Tom Kueterman, a member of the Friends of NASA Plum Brook, a local volunteer group advocating for the station. “All they are doing is tearing down a World War II building that has fallen into disrepair.”
After relocating the K-Site, administrators might actually find more use for the chamber.
“It will be easier to maintain in another facility,” Kueterman said. “Since they’re saving the equipment, they’ll relocate and reinstall the test equipment in a new location.”
Dave Taylor, NASA Plum Brook’s deputy director, answered the Register’s questions about the K-Site:
Question: What forced NASA administrators to demolish the K-Site?
Taylor: NASA regularly assesses its facilities to identify critical as well as costly, duplicative or underutilized capabilities. The building that houses the K-Site test chamber, a steam plant for the Ordnance Works, was built in 1941.
While the heart of the K-Site — its 25-foot spherical vacuum chamber — is in very good shape, all of the facility systems that support the chamber are very old and in need of repair.
NASA has determined that it will cost much less to remove and preserve the K-Site chamber for future use than it would cost to completely refurbish the existing facility. Thus, NASA has decided to remove the chamber and demolish the remainder of the test complex.
Q: What will become of the K-Site?
Taylor: If and when the K-Site chamber is needed, it will be added to an existing test complex, saving additional funds.
Q: When was the facility most recently used?
Taylor: The facility was last used for testing in 2004. While there are no near-term test requirements, the K-Site test chamber may be needed to test equipment in lunar or planetary surface conditions in the future.
Q: When will the demolition occur?
Taylor: The control room building and some other ancillary structures were demolished in 2012. The main building demolition will occur no earlier than 2014, depending on funding availability.
Q: How much will the demolition cost?
Taylor: The current estimate for remediation and demolition of the K-Site complex is $3.5 million.
Q: Will anything be built on that site?
Taylor: No. The current plan is to return the site to a natural state.
Q: What were some of the major tests conducted within the K-Site?
Taylor: It was originally built to test new liquid hydrogen, or rocket fuel, tanks and feed systems for in-space rocket engines. The K-Site was instrumental in helping NASA learn how to store and handle liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen in space. Later, it was used to test ways to make densified or slush propellants for rockets. In the future, the K-Site chamber may be used to simulate planetary surface environments and other conditions for space and aeronautic environments.
What is the K-Site at NASA Plum Brook?
The Cryogenic Propellant Tank Facility, or K-Site, is a space-environment test chamber 25 feet in diameter with a 20-foot diameter door.
The facility’s design and construction allows large-scale liquid hydrogen experiments. Control and data systems are located in a separate, remote building and electrical control systems include explosion-proof hardware.
The K-Site plays an essential role in developing advanced insulation systems and on-orbit fluid techniques for flight-weight cryogenic fuel tanks. The facility includes an 800-gallon slush hydrogen batch production plant and a 200-gallon small scale densification system.
Other features include:
•A chamber simulating conditions found on the moon, Mars and other upper-atmosphere regions.
•A removable cryogenic cold wall that can simulate deep-space temperatures as low as -423 degrees.
•Vacuum-jacketed piping and chamber penetrations.
•A hydraulic shaker system.
•Vacuum-jacketed dump line and burn-off stack to handle accidental spills inside the chamber.