$5 million from state to help upgrade Space Power Facility for moonship tests

PERKINS TWP. Houston, we have a big state grant. NASA Plum Brook Station hopes to use a $5 milli
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

PERKINS TWP.

Houston, we have a big state grant.

NASA Plum Brook Station hopes to use a $5 million grant from the Ohio Department of Development to create 82 full-time jobs, NASA officials said Wednesday.

The state grant will be matched with $5 million of NASA funds to upgrade the Space Power Facility at Plum Brook, a gigantic vacuum chamber.

The plan is to use the new additions to the facility to test components of Orion, the new spaceship NASA plans to build to return astronauts to the moon and send them to Mars.

The Space Power Facility has a thermal vacuum chamber. It is used to see if space equipment can hold up to the temperature extremes and vacuum of space.

The new project will add what NASA calls "vibro-acoustic test capability" to the facility, checking to see how spacecraft cope with the noise and vibrations they'll be subjected to when launched into space.

Gov. Ted Strickland began looking for ways to help NASA -- and bring jobs to Ohio -- as soon as he won the election, said Keith Dailey, the governor's spokesman. The night he won, Strickland and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher signed a letter to NASA urging the space agency to move forward on its planned Ohio work, Dailey said.

"The governor campaigned on a platform to keep and grow jobs in Ohio by investing in our people and our strengths. The NASA project will utilize Ohio's outstanding research talent and further enhance the state's prominence in space-related technologies," Dailey said.

The grant is also supposed to help Plum Brook retain its existing jobs. Currently, 115 people work at the Perkins Township site, including both civil servants and employees of private contractors, said Lori Rachul, a spokesman for NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, which administers Plum Brook.

The $5 million grant will be administered locally by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority.

The port authority had scheduled a meeting Wednesday with Erie County's commissioners and county officials to discuss the grant. The meeting was canceled because of a schedule conflict, but will be rescheduled as soon as possible, a port authority spokesman said.

The State Controlling Board will consider the grant Monday.

Rachul said she can't say when the 82 jobs will be added; it's likely it will be done in stages as the testing is carried out. The project will generate a variety of good-paying jobs, including construction jobs.

NASA has just released a request for proposals, asking companies to submit construction plans for the Space Power Facility.

NASA Glenn is receiving $63 million to test Orion components from 2007 to 2011. Plum Brook is testing the launch abort system, crew module, service module and spacecraft adapter.

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The Space Power Facility's vacuum chamber has a diameter of 100 feet and is 122 feet tall. It's been used to test a variety of space exploration equipment, including portions of the International Space Station and the landing system used for putting the Mars Rovers safely on the surface of Mars.

The Space Power Facility is a building with a large white dome at NASA Plum Brook Station in Perkins Township. It has a large vacuum chamber which can be chilled to reproduce the cold and airlessness of space, providing a realistic test of how spacecraft will perform during missions.