NASA IG Scrutinizes Seldom-used Plum Brook Test Facilities

WASHINGTON — All however one of many 5 large check services at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, have few or no prospects, and the scenario is unlikely to vary any time quickly, in line with an April 23 report from NASA’s inspector basic (IG).

A “majority of the check services are underutilized, with the extent of use and funding for these services relying on NASA packages and exterior prospects selecting to carry out testing at Plum Brook reasonably than at different NASA or personal services,” the IG wrote within the 28-page report, “Audit of NASA’s Necessities for Plum Brook Station.”

Among the services, most of which date again to the Sixties, are so rundown they require tens of millions of {dollars} in repairs — prices that have to be borne by potential prospects who present no signal of materializing, the IG wrote.

The inspector basic advisable NASA create a long-term technique for both sustaining or disposing of underutilized infrastructure at Plum Brook. NASA agreed, and, in a letter appended to the audit report, stated it will current the technique in a report back to Krista Paquin, affiliate administrator for mission assist, in September.

Plum Brook is a part of the Glenn Analysis Heart, situated some 80 kilometers east in Cleveland.

The NASA Plum Brook facility’s B-2 check chamber — proven in 1998 getting used for propulsion testing of a Delta 3 higher stage. Credit score: NASA picture

Of particular concern to the IG is Plum Brook’s B-2 Spacecraft Propulsion Analysis Facility, a cavernous vacuum chamber in-built 1964 and used to test-fire rocket engines in space-like situations. Final utilized in 1998 to check the higher stage of Boeing’s ill-fated Delta 3 launch car, B-2’s steam ejection system — which has been damaged for years — wants $15 million price of repairs earlier than the chamber can correctly simulate high-altitude situations required for engine assessments, in line with the IG.

The issue is that no person has but dedicated to testing an engine at B-2. The main candidate at this level, the IG wrote, is NASA’s House Launch System. NASA has budgeted two SLS launches, one in 2018 and one in 2021, and can depend on a modified Delta 4 cryogenic higher stage for each missions.

But when the SLS program needs to make use of B-2 to check that higher stage, it “could be anticipated to cowl the estimated $15 million in fundamental refurbishment prices in addition to SLS Program-specific check prices, which may probably be vital,” the IG wrote.

If the SLS program doesn’t check the higher stage at Plum Brook, it may use the A-3 check stand on the Stennis House Heart in Mississippi, which was accomplished in late 2014, regardless of the cancellation 4 years earlier of the Constellation program for which it was designed. A-3 was to be the high-altitude check website for the mothballed J-2X upper-stage engine, designed to energy the Ares 5 cargo launcher canceled together with Constellation.

In one other blow for B-2, the European House Company apparently is not going to use the power to check the upper-stage engine for the successor to its Ariane 5 rocket. ESA now “is planning to construct a check stand in Europe to accommodate such assessments,” the IG wrote. Likewise, “no industrial launch supplier has but come ahead to fund the renovations essential to make the B-2 usable.”

There are, nevertheless, a couple of nonrocket B-2 bookings lined up for 2015. NASA’s astrophysics division plans to check high-altitude balloons within the chamber, and the U.S. Military plans to check parts for unmanned aerial automobiles there, in line with the IG. Astrophysics and the military is not going to want the chamber’s rocket-testing capabilities, so the 2 teams are out as doable invoice payers for B-2’s damaged steam-ejection system.

In the meantime, prospects are even worse for 3 of Plum Brook’s different main testing services. Two of those — a wind tunnel referred to as the Hypersonic Check Facility, and the Cryogenic Parts Laboratory, which is now slated for demolition — haven’t been utilized in 4 years, the IG wrote.

In even worse form is Plum Brook’s Mixed Results Chamber, which was designed for large-scale experiments with liquid hydrogen, however by no means used. Furthermore, even when somebody wished to make use of the chamber, it “is unusable in its present situation,” in line with the IG.

Solely Plum Brook’s House Energy Facility, a cavernous vacuum chamber for testing full-scale house {hardware}, has a gradual stream of shoppers lined up, in line with the inspector basic.

SpaceX testing {hardware} at NASA’s House Energy Facility at Plum Brook Station in 2013. Credit score: SpaceX

“As of January 2015, NASA, the Division of Protection, and industrial launch suppliers are utilizing or have plans to make use of the [Space Power Facility] by means of at the very least 2020 to check space-related {hardware}, together with for NASA’s Orion Multi-Goal Crew Car,” the IG wrote.

The House Energy Facility has a latest historical past of attracting industrial prospects, too. In 2013, SpaceX examined the 5.2-meter fairing for its Falcon 9 rocket there. The fairing is a vital piece of {hardware} for the Hawthorne, California, firm’s industrial satellite tv for pc launches.

Since 2012, Plum Brook Station has acquired about $31 million in annual funding from NASA, most of which comes from the company’s Development and Environmental Compliance account — the price range line reserved for constructing, sustaining and demolishing infrastructure.

On the demolition entrance, though Plum Brook has torn down 18 buildings and buildings since 2012 — lowering the annual upkeep prices within the course of — there may be nonetheless a backlog of repairs Glenn has delay on the Sandusky campus as a result of it doesn’t have the roughly $55 million it will price to undertake them, in line with the IG.

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