February 10, 2016

AEDC arc heater facility supports next generation weapon systems

Deidre Ortiz
Arnold AFB, Tenn.

Testing on nosecone materials for a next generation weapons system was recently completed in the Arnold Engineering Development Complex arc heater facility at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn.

According to 1st Lt. Joey Achenbach, Air Force project manager at AEDC, the test program for San Diego Composites, Inc. (SDC) was performed to screen materials that will likely be used as part of a weapons system that will travel very, very fast at high altitudes.

The SDC nosecone test was conducted in the H2 Test Unit, but Achenbach explained all AEDC arc heaters, H1, H2 and H3, which simulate atmospheric re-entry conditions, are capable of the type of testing conducted on this test object.

“Each has their own focus and benefits,” he said. “H2 is for simulating high velocity at high altitude for aerospace vehicles while H1 and H3 are mainly used for high velocity at low altitude for ICBM ballistic reentry. H3 also operates on a larger scale, at over twice the available power level and mass flow of H1, with higher pressures of up to 160 atmospheres.”

H2 was also used to test re-entry materials for the heat shield on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity.

Just as the Curiosity test involved research and development of materials, information from the test on the SDC nosecone will help in determining the composition of the new weapon system.

“It will determine which candidate materials will be able to withstand the high energy environment associated with hypersonic velocities,” Achenbach said.

AEDC test teams measured ablation rate, shear response and thermal performance on the Thermal Protection System technologies. Additionally, during this test a mixing/stilling chamber was used to create lower conditions.

“This was unique in that it essentially lowered the total energy of the final air flow by injecting ambient air into the heated air flow produced by the heater,” Achenbach said.

He noted the test marked the first time AEDC performed testing on this particular object.

“It was a preliminary research test but there have been many similar types of tests done before for similar government programs.”

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