Plum Brook Station is located in Sandusky, Ohio very near to the Lake. It consists of about 6500 square acres (about 5 square miles). This site is used to conduct extensive testing largely on propellants; however, the large thermal vacuum chambers located on site make it very useful for testing components and systems in the environmental conditions that they are designed to function in (upper atmosphere and planetary bodies).
Upon arriving to Plum Brook we viewed a video detailing some of the specific characteristics and capabilities of the center. The center was initially constructed and used during World War II to manufacture weapons. However, after the war, the site was abandoned and later re-opened in the 1960’s by NASA who refurbished and modified the site to conduct experimental testing. It consists of about 700 buildings and employs hundreds of individuals.
After viewing the introductory video, we were bused around parts of the center. The area was very rural containing a lot of open fields, brush, and woods. In fact, much of the 6500 acres is used to conduct studies on local plant and wildlife. There are actually instruments attached to several of the telephone poles, located around the area, which are used to aid in a test on bird behavior near airports.
As we drove around the complex, a guide commented about various buildings that we passed. Among these was the CCL (Cryogenic Components Lab) where cryogenic fluids and their containers are tested. The lab also evaluates seals, valves, and other components that are to be subjected to cryogenic temperatures.
Our first stop was at the B-2 facility. From here we were able to see one of Plum Brook’s large thermal vacuum chamber. It is capable of pumping down to a pressure of about 1×10-8 Torr. This chamber is used to simulate and model atmospheric pressures and temperatures to enable the testing of spacecraft in operational conditions The chamber was also used to test the Centaur upper stage.
The next stop was the SPF (Space Power Facility). This was Plum Brook’s largest thermal vacuum chamber. It is designed to simulate pressures the same as those found 150 miles up (which is about where the International Space System flies). The assembly Hi-bay has 50ftx50ft doors one of which leads into the thermal vacuum chamber. The chamber itself actually is 100ft in diameter and 120ft high, with 1in thick aluminum walls. It was also able to vacuum the chamber down to 5×10-6 Torr. This was an extremely large building vacuum chamber.