A multi-million-dollar cryogenic chamber, erected
as part of Air Force research for President Reagan’s Strategic Defense
Initiative of the 1980s, will be given new life enhancing NASA space science
capabilities for the 21st century.

A crane lifted the main, two-story tank from an annex of the Air Force Research
Laboratory (AFRL) Information Directorate Wednesday afternoon (June 20). The
tank, as well as mounts and controls, are being trucked to NASA’s Marshall
Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Opened June 1989 as the “Cryogenic Test Facility” at the then Rome Air
Development Center, the chamber was built to test prototype space systems and
components in pressures and temperatures simulating space environments. The
chamber and associated equipment cost approximately $4 million. It was funded
through the Strategic Defense Initiative Office (SDIO), at a time when testing
was projected for large optical components of a space-based surveillance system.

Pressure in the chamber can be lowered to near vacuum conditions and the
facility was designed to drop temperatures to 100 degrees Kelvin — or 279
degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. It can accommodate test articles
up to two meters (six feet) in size.

“The cryo chamber was used for more than just testing objects in extreme cold,”
said James W. Cusack, an engineer on the program at the time and now chief of
the Information Directorate’s Information Systems Division. “It also served
as an optical test chamber.”

“Our original mission was to test optics envisioned for a space-based ballistic
missile defense system,” said Cusack. “With this chamber, engineers would look
down at the mirror being tested from above and conduct experiments with
classic optical test equipment. Based on chamber observations, the surface of
mirrors could be altered to eliminate minute, atomic-level variations caused
by the simulated space environment.”

With the demise of SDI space optics work at Rome, the chamber was renamed the
Space Simulation Facility and was used sporadically under a 1994 memorandum
of understanding with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

It will now become the largest vertical cryogenic chamber at NASA’s Marshall
complex. The move will cost approximately $300,000 and provide space
scientists and engineers with a capability estimated to cost between $6
million and $10 million if constructed new.

IMAGE CAPTION: [http://www.af.mil/photos/images/0904a.jpg (88KB)]
A crane lifts the cryogenic chamber from the space simulation facility at
the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate at the Griffiss
Business & Technology Park, formerly known as the Rome Air Development
Center. The chamber is on its way to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center
in Huntsville, Ala., where it will be used to test items in pressures and
temperatures simulating space environments.

Air Force Research Laboratory-Information Directorate


Francis L. Crumb, (315) 330-3053; E-Mail: crumbf@rl.af.mil