HomeNewsArticle Display

AFRL aids NASA in lofty endeavor

Air Force Research Laboratory electrical engineer Corey Boltz makes final adjustments before conducting a proof-of-concept arc test in preparation for follow-up testing to support a NASA research effort. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Holly Jordan)

Corey Boltz, Air Force Research Laboratory electrical engineer, makes final adjustments before conducting a proof-of-concept arc test in preparation for follow-up testing to support a NASA research effort. (U.S. Air Force photo by Holly Jordan)

The Air Force Research Laboratory Materials Evaluation team generates an electrical arc fault in a vacuum chamber in support of a NASA research effort to determine the effects of arcing in Earth-orbit conditions. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Corey Boltz)

The Air Force Research Laboratory materials evaluation team generates an electrical arc fault in a vacuum chamber in support of a NASA research effort to determine the effects of arcing in Earth-orbit conditions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Corey Boltz)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) -- Ingenuity and collaboration were the keys to success as a group of Air Force Research Laboratory engineers took a series of tests to new heights.

At the request of NASA, AFRL rapid-response systems support researchers delved into the realm of space to help determine the effects of unintended electrical arcing on astronaut space suits during extravehicular maintenance.

NASA researchers came to the AFRL team with a simple question. How does an electrical arc behave in a vacuum? Although this may seem like a fairly simple question, it was a concept that had not been explored fully before.

“What was not understood were the ramifications of an arc in space,” said Brett Jordan, electrical and electronic materials evaluation team lead. “What are the mass and velocity of the particles produced by the arcing, and what would be the effects of those metal particles flying off the arc in that environment?”

To answer this question, AFRL began by determining how to build fixtures for a low-pressure test and performing proof-of-concept testing to determine the best method to reliably create an arc in the planned lab setting. This initial series of tests helped the researchers understand the materials, positioning and current needed to successfully generate the arc, as well as the proper test setup to use for an Earth-orbit vacuum environment.

With this initial data in hand, the team then began to prepare for low-pressure testing. Reaching out to fellow AFRL materials and electronics researchers, the team acquired a low-pressure chamber and secured a laboratory for conducting the tests.

“It really was a team effort,” said Corey Boltz, electrical engineer and project lead. “We received assistance from many different teams throughout AFRL to make this happen.”

After another round of experimental tests and setup, the team was ready to begin the final round of testing and data collection. With the assistance of NASA engineers, the AFRL team performed a series of 35 tests in the low-pressure chamber. Each test run was a careful exercise in control and precision. For each individual test, the team followed a rigorous process that involved precise placement of the test fixture, calibration of multiple high-speed data capture cameras and pumping the chamber down to extreme low-pressure atmospheric conditions.

The team completed the tests quickly, despite the complex setup required between each test run. From start to finish, the low-pressure test runs were completed in nine days. Jordan says this was possible because the AFRL test chamber offered capabilities that were not immediately available to the NASA team. Because of the chamber’s design, its pressure could be lowered to the necessary test conditions in about half the time it takes a typical chamber to achieve the same conditions. As a result, more test runs could be completed in a shorter period of time.

“For us, it was all part of our rapid-response mission, and the customer appreciated that quick turnaround,” Boltz said.

The data gathered from the testing provided important data that NASA is using to structure their own set of tests.

“This data-rich testing enabled the optimization of tests being performed at three other facilities, which are adding various other factors related to the extra vehicular activity scenario,” said Amri Hernandez-Pellerano, NASA technical lead. “The AFRL pathfinder tests enabled us to properly plan resources in this study.”

Jordan added that since these tests were the first space vacuum work the group had performed, the testing event benefited AFRL as well by expanding the base of knowledge for electrical arcing in low-pressure environments. He said the data and processes established will be useful for the project researchers and other AFRL teams as they tackle future endeavors.

“As the systems support rapid reaction team, that’s what we do,” said Jordan. “We’re proud of our mission. We take it seriously, we enjoy it, and when we need to come up with good answers quickly, we make it happen quickly.”

Engage

Facebook Twitter
#MentorMonday: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mu… https://t.co/PjGcBMVliB
Our partnerships and @NATO allies help keep our mission moving forward. https://t.co/5R4ZB7XqXs
$40M up for grabs! Find out how your small business can make some cash while helping solve some of the #USAF's toug… https://t.co/0AEmZhZGdI
RT @SecAFOfficial: Happy birthday 🎉 to #USAF Col & #space pioneer Buzz Aldrin @TheRealBuzz ✈️🚀 https://t.co/gIsicyA1uk
#Innovation! First metallic #3Dprinted part installed on an operational #F22 Raptor @HAFB. The new part will not co… https://t.co/rkKr1jtThg
Practice makes perfect! These #SpecOps medical experts maintain readiness & relevance for all operations, today and… https://t.co/WMpdt9LTGe
Remembering a woman who changed the world: Millicent Young, Women #AirForce Service Pilot in World War II, dies at… https://t.co/mri1QRXOC8
From fast food to future technology, one #Airman found a new calling @AirNatlGuard and decided to ditch the fryer f… https://t.co/I8qX7GpH4n
An #F35 sits on the flightline @LukeAFB, Jan. 10. Six different aircraft maintenance units from #TeamLuke competed… https://t.co/OxVMxf7Ayw
It takes a lot of coordination to clear a flightline of snow, but @TeamMisawa--a place that averaged more than 147… https://t.co/VQ4qjdsxFz
RT @SecAFOfficial: It is our responsibility to maintain a strong national defense @usairforce https://t.co/JXzhtqdMrg
When lives are on the line, there is no margin for error. Combat Search & Rescue #Airmen at #MoodyAFB conduct pre-d… https://t.co/AsWzaa1I00
RT @AFResearchLab: When a product goes from lab to battlefield, you can expect some amazing capabilities. See what work we've done to assis…
A B-2 Spirit bomber from @Whiteman_AFB, conducts aerial refueling near @JointBasePHH, during an interoperability tr… https://t.co/wzM5GvcviS
The #AirForce Life Cycle Management Center team is working to acquire next generation fixed-wing helmet.… https://t.co/LJ2xeCLdf2
Capt Jerry Yellin, #WWII fighter pilot who flew the last combat mission in August 1945, was laid to rest… https://t.co/XnSB9Yo3PC
75 years of @WrightPattAFB! Take a walk down memory lane with the leaders in military aviation development. https://t.co/vmjwxLUydg
C-5M #SuperGalaxy aircrew & aerial port specialists @Travis60AMW join the @USArmy to transport four UH-60… https://t.co/kTxdf9axY5
RT @SecAFOfficial: Why do we care about #space? It's contested. It's congested. It's competitive. https://t.co/DJZBjF2NHu
To continue the military’s strides to become a more cohesive force, @MacDill_AFB hosted its first #Joint #PME enhan… https://t.co/K56KEUVnIb