When the Orion spacecraft makes its maiden voyage into space, it will do so upon an unproven rocket design that's bigger than and more powerful than anything we've built before. To ensure that the precious capsule survives liftoff, NASA is shaking it down with the help of this ginormous jitter table.
Much like the "earthquake tables" used to engineer sturdier homes in California, the vibration-simulation table delivered to Glenn Research Center's Space Power Facility at the Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, OH this week, is designed to simulate the violent lateral forces present when sitting atop 8.6 million pounds of thrust. The 22-foot-wide table weighs 55,000 pounds and employs four horizontal and 16 vertical servo-hydraulic actuators. In fact, it's the world's highest capacity and most-powerful spacecraft shaker system.
"Launch is the most dynamic and dangerous part of spaceflight," Space Power Facility manager Jerry Carek said in a press statement. "It takes an incredible amount of power for a rocket to boost a spacecraft like Orion into space. And all that power results in intense shaking. Spacecraft systems have to be specially designed to work in spite of the vibration – this table lets us test them to make sure that they do."
Should anything shake loose that is supposed to, NASA engineers will have precious little time for redesigns; the next test flight—one atop an actual SLS rocket no less—is scheduled for next spring. [NASA]