Funding boosts hypersonic testing throughput at Arnold Engineering Development Complex facilities

  • Published
  • By Jill Pickett
  • AEDC/PA

Two of the test and evaluation capabilities within the Space Test Branch of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex have received funding from the Test Resource Management Center, or TRMC, to improve the nation’s ability to test hypersonic systems in a timely manner.

Since fiscal year 2020, $850,000 has been awarded in support of the high-temperature materials characterization and evaluation capability. These funds have allowed the AEDC team, made up of government and contractor employees, to add five engineers, currently in training, and 10 craftspeople, seven of whom are in training and three of whom are now fully trained. With the additional staff, the High-Temperature Laboratory, composed of three arc heaters, can be operated 16 hours a day, 5 days a week, with the ability to surge to longer operations when the test schedule requires. Operations include test runs, facility maintenance and test buildup.

The operations tempo is needed to keep up with demand for the test capability.

“With the growth in personnel, test frequency has increased from 77 runs in fiscal year 2020 to a forecasted workload of 116 runs in fiscal year 2022,” said Frank Wonder, Arcs Section chief.  “Additional TRMC-funded improvements have the potential to increase test throughput at the arcs facility to 150 runs per year in fiscal year 2023 and beyond.”

The arc heaters are used to simulate the aerodynamic heating and mid-to-high shear pressures of extreme environmental conditions experienced in re-entry and hypersonic flight in order to characterize and evaluate the ablation, or erosion, of thermal protection materials and systems. A capability crucial in developing hypersonic weapon systems and re-entry vehicles.

“TRMC investment has been critical in transforming the AEDC High-Temperature Laboratory to a production facility that is advancing the state of high-temperature material testing within the Department of Defense,” Wonder said. “Being on the cutting edge of hypersonic weapons system development is motivating to young engineers. They want to come work here. Rather than just serving as facilitators in an ‘air rent-a-center,’ they are providing acquisition programs with actionable information that positively impacts the weapon systems development process. For me, it’s personally rewarding to work with such a talented mix of ‘high octane’ professionals in our government, TOS [Test Operations and Sustainment contractor], and TMAS [Technical and Management Advisory Services contractor] arcs test team that has been fueled in large measure by the support of the TRMC.”

TRMC funding of $1.5 million was provided for Range G, which is one of the ballistic ranges used at Arnold AFB to support hypervelocity flyout, impact and lethality ground test and evaluation.

The funding has allowed the AEDC team to increase consumable inventory for the range, purchase critical spare equipment, replace operational supplies and improve operational efficiency. The supplies purchased included gunpowder for the first stage of launching a projectile, high-speed cameras and a spare flash radiograph scanner.

“These improvements and modernizations increase test turnaround and eliminate single-point-of failure items that are aging and increasingly likely to cause delays,” said Shana Morris, AEDC project management support.

Range G is used to evaluate the aerodynamics and impact lethality of hypervelocity and high-speed systems by collecting and analyzing the flight characteristics of projectiles in simulated flight environments and the impact on targets. It is a large two-stage, light-gas gun which provides a minimized-acceleration loading capability for the launch of extremely high-fidelity models at hypervelocity speeds.

Models are launched into an instrumented chamber that is able to be maintained at pressure to simulate various altitudes. High-speed cameras and flash radiographs are two primary instrumentation systems used to study projectiles in flight.

“The National Defense Strategy has multiple objectives that require the support of AEDC’s Hypervelocity Ranges in support of development and acquisition programs,” said Jonathan Carroll, chief of the Ranges Section. “Recent years have seen an increase in customer demand, as well as multiple capability reactivations in support of test customer requirements. Meeting these surging demands, while continuing to deliver unique test data will be critical to provide decision ready information to program offices and requirements owners.

“The funding provided through TRMC has made possible critical updates and infrastructure improvements to allow AEDC’s Ranges to be prepared for the surging workload. Mission partners have already seen the impacts of some of these efforts through reduced downtime, improved facility performance, available critical spares and improved operational efficiencies. The investment will yield dividends of increased test throughput for many years to come.”