AFMC Command News

AEDC’s Space and Missile Test Branch operates a diverse set of test and evaluation capabilities

  • Published
  • By Jill Pickett

The Space and Missile Test Branch within the Arnold Engineering Development Complex’s Test Division conducts developmental test and evaluation of space and missile systems.

“Our mission is to deliver timely, disciplined, defensible and relevant developmental test and evaluation, or T&E, of space and missile systems for decision makers,” said Lt. Col. Adam Quick, branch chief.

The Space and Missile Test Branch works with other Test Division branches, the Test Support Division, the Test Operations and Sustainment and Technical Management and Advisory Services contractors, and mission partners across six T&E capabilities focused on the priorities of the National Defense Strategy.

“All six capabilities in the Branch have seen significant increase in demand as the DOD implements solutions that support the National Defense Strategy,” Quick said.

The six capabilities are Multi-Spectral Signature Measurement and Analysis, High Temperature Materials Characterization and Evaluation, Hypervelocity Flyout, Impact and Lethality Ground T&E, High-Altitude/Space Environmental Effects and Sensors Ground T&E, Space Asset Resilience, and Rocket Propulsion Ground T&E.

The Multi-Spectral Signature Measurement and Analysis capability supports the development and evaluation of aircraft warning systems, surrogate threat simulators and countermeasures.

The capability’s field measurement team, which can deploy anywhere in the world, supports testing by collecting optical, infrared and ultraviolet signatures from threat systems, including air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank guided missiles, man-portable air defenses and rocket propelled grenades, and small arms fire.

Likewise, the capability’s modeling and simulation team takes the data obtained from the field measurement team and creates tools that replicate the threat system signatures for the development of detection, identification and self-protection systems.

“Their efforts directly contribute to aircraft and aircrew survivability and combat effectiveness, providing lethality in contested environments,” said Lt. Col. Justin Tolliver, Multi-Spectral Signature Measurement and Analysis capability manager.

The High-Temperature Materials Characterization and Evaluation capability allows materials in flight-representative shapes to be subjected to temperatures generated during portions of the flight envelope by using segmented arc jet heaters.

“One of the key aspects for modernizing our nuclear forces and developing hypersonic and counter-hypersonic systems is the evaluation of thermal protection systems,” said Jim Burns, deputy branch chief. “Reentry vehicles and greater than Mach 5 systems must survive the high temperatures and pressures experienced during flight.”

The capability, with help from fellow AEDC organizations and the DOD Test Resource Management Center, has expanded with the development of the Mid-Pressure Arc Heater from prototype to operational status enabling the simulation of hypersonic flight conditions.

“These improvements helped achieve the capability’s highest throughput ever last year, and will continue to increase test production in the near future,” Burns said.

The Hypervelocity Flyout, Impact and Lethality Ground T&E capability allows data to be collected about flight characteristics of projectiles in reentry, hypersonic and orbital flight environments, and the result of their impact.

Projectiles are launched with a two-stage, light gas gun into a simulated altitude chamber, up to speeds nearing 7 kilometers per second, or Mach 20. Reentry vehicles, interceptors, and other nature and manmade space debris are some of the projectiles tested.

“Currently, we're working with the Hypersonic Test and Evaluation Investment Program to reinvigorate our weather encounter test capability,” said Jonathan Carroll, Hypervelocity Flyout, Impact and Lethality Ground T&E capability manager. “The range is configured with a track to ensure the projectile encounters the generated rain, snow or dust fields that simulate real world flight conditions. This allows programs to evaluate the survivability of hypersonic and reentry systems.”

The High-Altitude/Space Environmental Effects and Sensors Ground T&E capability simulates the space environment to study its effects on space materials, systems, subsystems, small satellites, and components of larger satellites.

This capability operates multiple thermal vacuum chambers ranging in size from 1 foot to 42 feet in diameter. Tests, such as thermal cycling and separation/jettison of components through vacuum freefall, can be conducted in the chambers. Space-based sensors are also tested in some of the chambers.

“The team developed an off-axis rejection test capability, which allows sensor developers to determine how much of the sun or the moon can be in the sensor’s field-of-view before objects of interest are washed out,” said Kellye Burns, a space test engineer.

“The thing that sets our chambers apart is the use of liquid helium which allows us to get temperatures down to -450 degrees Fahrenheit. Most chambers use liquid nitrogen, which is -320 degrees Fahrenheit,” she said. “This difference in temperature is critical for controlling the background noise when evaluating system performance or simulating deep space temperatures for space vehicle materials.”

The Space Asset Resilience capability employs the thermal vacuum chambers to evaluate components, subsystems and systems in a simulated natural orbital environment.

Environmental factors tested include outgassing and ionization from normal satellite operations, as well as electrons, protons and atomic oxygen from the surrounding space “weather.”

 The Rocket Propulsion Ground T&E capability has been a component of AEDC since the organization was founded, with a focus currently on aging and surveillance of the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile rocket motors.

Motors are tested from ignition through steady state thrust production to thrust termination at simulated altitude conditions up to 100,000 feet above sea level.

“AEDC’s contribution to closing the missile gap, the space race and nuclear surety are unmatched,” said Randy Quinn, Rocket Propulsion Ground T&E capability manager.

The work of the Space and Missile Test Branch supports numerous organizations with T&E capabilities, some of which are not available anywhere else in the world.

“The work we're doing is critical to modernizing our nuclear forces, allowing the United States Space Force and the Missile Defense Agency to operate in harsh and contested environments, and our military and numerous allies to execute their missions safely while delivering lethal capabilities,” Quick said. “Our developmental test and evaluation workforce and facilities create unique capabilities for the nation, and are critical to keeping our military forces second to none.”