High Altitude Chamber Complex

User Specification
March 2023

1. INTRODUCTION

This document provides a description of all major components of the Kepler High Altitude Chamber Complex (KEPLER HACC) located at the Midland Air and Space Port in Midland, Texas and the functions and use of each. Operation and maintenance of the KEPLER HACC must be performed in accordance with ASME PVHO safety standard to maintain safe operation and compliance with ASME PVHO certification. Operators must be trained to assure proper operation of the equipment and assure safety of human life for operations that include human test subjects. Operators must have an excellent understanding of mechanical, electrical, pneumatic and electronic control systems as well as an excellent understanding of the effects of altitude on human physiology. Severe permanent injury or death could occur from improper operation and / or maintenance of the system.

1.1 KEPLER HACC Overview

The Kepler High Altitude Chamber Complex (HACC) is a high-altitude test facility located at the Midland Air & Space Port in Midland, Texas that supports testing and qualification of space and pressure suits, payloads, subsystems and components, as well as flight crew training operations. It provides the capability for high-altitude testing of both personnel and equipment. The KEPLER HACC is operated by Kepler Aerospace Ltd.

The complex features three hypobaric chambers for testing equipment and training personnel in normal and emergency flight conditions. The KEPLER HACC has a small Equipment Chamber to test equipment up to size 8U, a two-person Suit Chamber to test pressure suits, and a Cabin Chamber that can accommodate as many as ten people or a vehicle cabin / flight deck. This complex is capable of testing real flight hardware in accurate flight pressure conditions.

The two larger chambers provide for testing of pressure suits prior to their operation. They also provide experience for high-altitude travelers to get the feel of wearing a pressure suit and performing tasks in a low-pressure environment.

To simulate emergency rapid decompression conditions, the larger chambers are attached to two large outdoor vacuum tanks. The Suit Chamber can decompress from Sea Level to a 200,000+ foot altitude in less than five seconds and the Cabin Chamber can decompress from Sea Level to 200,000+ foot altitude in less than 15 seconds. All chambers can operate at altitudes up to 200,000+ feet and permit accurate nominal flight pressure mission profiles to be flown as well.

The floor layout of the facility is shown in Figure 1. An overview block diagram of the KEPLER HACC system is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 1. KEPLER HACC Facility Layout

Figure 2. KEPLER HACC Flow Chart

2. SUIT CHAMBER

The KEPLER HACC Suit Chamber (SC) is designed to support test and evaluation of flight pressure suits, as well as flight equipment and to train personnel for high-altitude flight operations. The chamber accommodates two (2) persons, seated, in pressure suits.

Occupants are visible from the front of the chamber. The system will be used to simulate flight profiles for various aerospace flight vehicles, including rapid decompression. The pressure vessel is built according to ASME PVHO-1 2012 Safety Standards for Pressure Vessels for Human Occupancy and ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, Section VIII, Division 1 rules. Interfaces accommodate different pressure suit and chamber configurations.

2.1 Suit Chamber Structure, Attachments, and Interfaces

The Suit Chamber configuration annotating the basic structure is shown in Figure 3.

Front View

Back View

Interfaces to the KEPLER HACC include the inlet and exhaust nozzles at the rear of the chamber. The interface for instrumentation for the chamber and equipment or subjects inside is through the pass-throughs in penetration plates.

Attachments include plumbing for the vacuum system, as shown in Figure 4 The controls associated with the Suit Chamber are shown in Figure 5.

Figure 4. Suit Chamber Plumbing, Valves, Controllers, Transducers, and Associated Connections

Figure 5. Suit Chamber Control Panel

2.2 Suit Chamber Door

The Suit Chamber door is shown in Figure 6. The door seals are shown in Figure 7.The door latch is shown in Figure 8.

Figure 6. Suit Chamber Door

Figure 7. Suit Chamber Door Seal

Figure 8. Door Latch in Open (Left) and Locked (Right) Position

2.3 Operation of the Suit Chamber Steps

The Suit Chamber steps are shown in Figure 1. They are mounted on wheels; they will be rolled into position and the wheels locked to prevent movement when needed for test activities.

Figure 9. Suit Chamber Steps

2.4 Acrylic Dome Care

The acrylic dome of the Suit Chamber (shown in Figure 10) requires significant care to assure it remains clean and to prevent any scratches or chafing of the surface. Specific instructions are provided in the User/Maintenance manual, SCPV User Manual (rev final) 7-9-15.

Figure 10. Suit Chamber Acrylic Dome

2.5 Intercom Use

The intercom located in the Suit Chamber is shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11. Suit Chamber Intercom

2.6 Emergency Stop / Panic Button

The Suit Chamber is supplied with an emergency stop button that will immediately repressurize the chamber in an emergency. The button is located on the horizontal handrail inside the door, as shown in Figure 12.

Figure 12. Suit Chamber Emergency Stop Button

2.7 Penetration Plates

Two Suit Chamber Penetration Plates are shown in Figure 13. These will require removal any time a new pass-through is required, as well as at specified required maintenance intervals.

Figure 13. Suit Chamber Penetration Plates

3. CABIN CHAMBER

The KEPLER HACC Cabin Chamber is designed to support test and evaluation of flight pressure suits, as well as flight equipment, and to train personnel for high-altitude flight operations. The chamber will accommodate up to eight (8) persons, seated in four rows on either side of an aisle, in pressure suits and two (2) additional persons in pressure suits either standing or seated on jump seats in the aisle-way. Occupants will be visible from outside the chamber. The system will be used to simulate flight profiles for various aerospace flight vehicles, including rapid decompression. The pressure vessel is built according to ASME PVHO-1 2012 Section 6 Safety Standards for Pressure Vessels for Human Occupancy and ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, Section VIII, Division 1 rules. Interfaces will accommodate different pressure suit and chamber configurations.

3.1 Cabin Chamber Structure, Attachments, and Interfaces

The Cabin Chamber configuration annotating the basic structure is shown in Figure 14 and Figure 15.

Figure 14. Hypobaric Cabin Chamber – Main Features as Viewed from Exit Wall

Figure 15. Hypobaric Cabin Chamber – Main Features as Seen from Viewing Room

Interfaces to the KEPLER HACC include the inlet nozzles on the top of the chamber and exhaust nozzles on near the bottom. The interface for instrumentation for the chamber and equipment or subjects inside is through the pass-throughs in penetration plates.

Attachments include plumbing for the vacuum system, as shown in Figure 16 (showing the air inlet plumbing) and Figure 17 (showing the air exhaust plumbing). The controls associated are mounted on the same board as for the Suit Chamber, which was shown in Figure 5.

Figure 16. Cabin Chamber Showing Air Inlet Attachments

Figure 17. Cabin Chamber Plumbing for Air Exhaust

3.2 Cabin Chamber Door

The Cabin Chamber front door is shown open in Figure 18. The rear door design is the same, but there is a small flat window rather than an acrylic dome, and there are two hand rails.

Figure 18. Cabin Chamber Front Door

3.3 Operation of the Cabin Chamber Steps

The Cabin Chamber front steps are shown in Figure 19 the stowed and raised positions. The steps at the rear Cabin Chamber door are identical. The steps are designed so that when needed, the side railing is raised. This pulls the steps into position. Once raised, the wheels are locked into place to prevent movement as occupants enter the chamber.

Figure 19. Cabin Chamber Front Steps in Down and Up Positions

3.4 Carriage Rolling Assembly

The Carriage Rolling Assembly is a component that duplicates the configuration of the Cabin Chamber floor rails. The floor rails were designed to accommodate various configurations of the floor within the chamber. This rolling assembly allows construction and transport of the floor to and from the chamber. It is designed to accommodate a static weight of 2000 pounds, which is the design weight for the chamber rail system.

Figure 20 shows the assembly with floor rails ready to be rolled into the Cabin Chamber.

Figure 20. Carriage Rolling Assembly

3.5 Intercom Use

The Cabin Chamber intercom is shown in Figure 21.

Figure 21. Cabin Chamber Intercom

3.6 Emergency Stop / Panic Button

The Cabin Chamber is supplied with two emergency stop buttons that will immediately repressurize the chamber in an emergency. One button is located on the vertical hand rail inside the rear door, as shown in Figure 22. Another is mounted on the horizontal hand rail of the front door, similarly to that on the Suit Chamber, as was shown in Figure 12.

Figure 22. Cabin Chamber Rear Emergency Stop Button

3.7 Penetration Plates

Twelve Cabin Chamber Penetration Plates are mounted on the Cabin Chamber for instrumentation pass-throughs. One is shown in Figure 23. These will require removal any time a new pass-through is required, as well as at specified required maintenance intervals.

Figure 23. Cabin Chamber Penetration Plate

4. VACUUM SYSTEM

The KEPLER HACC Vacuum System (VS) is designed to depressurize the three test chambers down to near 0 psi, equivalent to space qualifications. All components have been installed and integrated into the KEPLER HACC. The primary components of the vacuum system are:

A functional layout of the vacuum system is provided in Figure 24.

Figure 24. KEPLER HACC Vacuum System Functional Layout

4.1 Pumps and Chiller

The pumps and associated chiller are shown in Figure 25. The primary pump is used to pump down the vacuum tanks and to maintain fine control of altitude profiles. The small pump is used primarily for pumping down and maintaining altitude profiles on the Equipment Chamber. The chiller is required for cooling of the primary pump whenever the primary pump is operating. They are located in the pump room just outside the KEPLER HACC and next to the vacuum tanks.

Figure 25. Vacuum Pumps and Chiller

4.2 Vacuum Tanks

The vacuum tanks are shown in Figure 26.

Figure 26. KEPLER HACC Vacuum Tanks

These tanks are fitted with flanges as follows: four (4) 6” flanges at equal intervals along the bottom, to be used for drain and piping connections; one 10” flange located at the front end of the tanks for piping connections; one 16” manway along the lower edge to accommodate entry into the tank for inspection and cleaning, if required; and one 24” flange located at the back end of the tanks for future use. Figure 27 shows the location of flanges and openings in the tanks.

Figure 27. Drawing of Vacuum Tank

The valves and sensors attached to the vacuum tanks are shown in Figure 28.

Figure 28. Plumbing and Valves on Vacuum Tanks

4.3 Repressurization Filter

A repressurization filter, shown in Figure 29, is mounted on top of the pump room. This unit provides filtering of the outside air drawn into the chambers during repressurization to assure no debris are brought back into the chambers or associated piping. Figure 30 shows a close-up of the filter, with the safety wire mounted horizontally between the support posts of the filter. Two safety harnesses, also shown in Figure 30, are available for use whenever servicing of the filter is required. They are attached to the safety wire as shown in the figure.

Figure 29. Vacuum System Repressurization Filter

Figure 30. Repressurization Filter Harness and Safety Wire

5. CONTROL SYSTEM

Control of all depressurization tests is accomplished using a laptop computer with LabView installed. An example of the control screen is shown in Figure 31.

Figure 31. Control Screen Example

The wiring system, some of which was previously shown on the control panel for the Cabin and Suit Chambers, is explained, with the wiring color scheme related to the various valves and pressure sensors. The use of thermocouples and proportional valve control also are explained in the video.

6. EQUIPMENT CHAMBER

The Equipment Chamber allows users to test the capabilities of equipment or components up to an altitude of 300,000+ feet. The chamber can maintain and/or adjusting altitude indefinitely in support of equipment assessments and long-duration user / university experiments.

The top half of the chamber is an acrylic dome, which supports direct observation and video or photographic recording of work being conducted. All vacuum, vent, and electrical pass-throughs are located in the lower steel dome of the chamber.

The KEPLER HACC Equipment Chamber is designed to support test and evaluation of objects planned for high altitude or space flight. The chamber interior volume is 11.8 cubic feet, which will accommodate 8U objects (23”W x 20”D x 14”H) weighing up to 500 pounds. The object(s) are completely visible from outside the chamber. The EC will be used to simulate flight profiles of various aerospace flight vehicles, not including rapid decompression, to test the integrity of equipment at specific altitudes for long durations. An interface plate permits the user to customize the interface to accommodate different test articles and environment configurations.

Vacuum lines, valves and fittings are installed for quick connections to the vacuum system. Three are located in the KEPLER HACC room, one in the Suit Test room, and two in the building lobby. Figure 32 shows the Equipment Chamber and one of the connection stations for the chamber.

Figure 32. Equipment Chamber and Connection to Vacuum System

If you are interested in the use of our chamber complex, please email us at hacc@kepleraerospace.com

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