A First Look at NASA's New Large Vibration Test System

When most of us witness the awe inspiring spectacle of a rocket launching into space, we focus much more on where it is going than where it has already been. Nevertheless, years of planning and testing go into every space expedition, and NASA’s 8.835 billion dollar project, the James Webb Space Telescope, is certainly no exception. That is why in 2014 NASA chose Team Corporation to build a system capable of simulating the vibration that the telescope would experience during its launch.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is planned to launch in October of 2018. It will complement the data that has been discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope, but will operate in the infrared spectrum, making it more sensitive to distant light.  When completed, JWST will be the most powerful space telescope ever built and will allow scientists to look farther into galaxies and planetary systems by collecting infrared measurements with the telescope’s four instruments.


A full scale model of the JWST at SXSW

A full model of the James Webb Space Telescope at SXSW. 

Development of the telescope requires vibration testing to simulate different phases of liftoff and orbit and to verify workmanship.  However, no facility exists that is large enough for NASA to perform such tests.  As a result, Team Corporation was contracted by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD to design and build such a system. NASA had already been using Team’s multi-axis test systems since 1995 to test satellites, and in 2008, Team supplied its equipment to be incorporated into the Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility and Mechanical Vibration Facility  at NASA's Plumbrook facility.

Like past projects, the system built for the JWST had its own unique set of challenges to overcome, making it a critical step forward for the noise and vibration testing industry.  The Team system for JWST is referred to as the Large Vibration Test System (LVTS) and is comprised of a horizontal slip table for horizontal testing and a vertical guided head expander for vertical testing.  Both systems are designed to minimize the off-axis motion during vibration testing and to be fully self-contained.  The result is that they require very little facility modifications for installation, even though the JWST and its fixture weigh in at 15,000 lbs and require an 11 foot square working surface. Data Physics, another leading provider of high performance noise and vibration equipment, supplied three of its largest capacity shakers and a multi-axis controller for the project as well.

As with all large capacity vibration testing systems built by Team Corporation, this system can be used for testing different types of equipment in the future, making it a smart investment for an organization like NASA. The LVTS horizontal slip table system has been delivered to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and is currently being commissioned.  The LVTS vertical guided head expander is scheduled for installation later this summer.  The pictures included below provide a first look at the system in its new home.