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Johnson Space Center
Mail Code: EA
2101 NASA Parkway
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Test Facilities Guide

Engineering Test Facilities Guide

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Arc-Jet Testing Facility

    Atmospheric Reentry Materials and Structures Evaluation FacilityImage of the interior of the Johnson Space Center (JSC) Atmospheric Reentry Materials and Structures Evaluation Facility (Arc-Jet).
    Photo credit: NASA

    The Atmospheric Reentry Materials and Structures Evaluation Facility (Arc-Jet) is essential for evaluation of the thermal protection systems (TPS) for spacecraft that enter planetary atmospheres. This facility was built in 1966 and underwent major updates in 1974 and 1990. Minor updates are incorporated on an as needed basis. The Arc-Jet provides the expertise to support screening, development, and validation of human-rated spacecraft thermal protection systems and robotically piloted vehicles.

    The Arc-Jet is a high altitude, hypersonic wind tunnel facility that uses 4 direct current (DC) rectifiers capable of producing 10 MW of electrical power to heat test gases that typically consist of 23% O2 and 77% N2 by mass. The facility uses separate GN2 and GO2 gas sources that are individually controlled and allow control over the percentages of each gas at either test position in accordance with the customer test requirements. This heated gas, that can be on the order of 7,000 deg K is accelerated through water-cooled nozzles into a vacuum chamber that is pumped by the facility 4 stage steam ejection vacuum system. Flow fields created in the vacuum chambers are tailored to simulate specific re-entry heating conditions for a given customer test article. Atmospheric Reentry Materials and Structures Evaluation Facility Control RoomAn entry heating simulation test being performed in the JSC Engineering Directorate's Arc Jet facility.
    Photo credit: NASA
    The 4 stage steam ejection vacuum system is capable of maintaining the heater chamber at approximately 1/1000th of an atmosphere with gas mass flow introduction into the system at rates up to 635 gr/sec (1.4 lbm/sec). The 4 stage steam ejection vacuum system is supplied high pressure high temperature steam by a 80,000 lb./hr. boiler and consists of 2 condensers and a NOx scrubber. The condensed steam along with the water supplied to both condensers and the NOx scrubber is a part of a closed loop water circuit that is cooled by the facility cooling tower and re-supplied back to the system. Liquid cooling of various pieces of hardware associated with the heater is required to prevent melting and subsequent failure of this hardware. The coolant system supplies 500 psig high pressure de-ionized water to the arc heater column itself and areas exposed to the high power DC of the rectifiers. There is also a 30 psig high flow rate pump that supplies water from the facility pond to various hardware where electrical conductivity is not important such as the diffuser, sting arms, etc.

    The facility has two test positions:

    Channel Nozzle Test Position

    Channel Nozzle Test position is currently configured with a hypersonic duct for testing acreage style test articles (tile arrays for example) in an environment where flow is parallel to the test article surface such as the Orbiter belly. A new high shear section is being added to this nozzle to accommodate Lunar return environments. This test position is re-configurable for conical nozzles.


    Gas N2 + O2 (0-50% O2), CO2
    Input Power (MW) 0.5 - 13
    Nozzle Exit (Inches) 2x10, 2x18, 2x30
    Height x Width @ Test Article Center
    Bulk Enthalpy (BTU/lbm) 1,500 – 20,000
    Test Article Type Flat Panel
    Sample Size (Inches) 4x4, 12x12, 24x24, 8x10
    Convective Heating Rate (BTU/ft2-Sec) 12"x12": 2-78
    24"x24": 2-45
    Surface Temperature (F) 1,000 – 3,100 *
    Surface Pressure (psf) 4-110
    * Material Dependent

    Conical Nozzle Test Position

    Arc Jet FacilityConical Nozzle Testing
    Photo credit: NASA
    Conical nozzle test position is used to perform stagnation test and other angle of attack testing configurations to simulate wing leading edge conditions, nose cap, etc. The diameter of the flow field of this test position can be varied by selecting a nozzle size anywhere from 3.5" to 40". A newly developed duct accommodates 4" x 4" test articles for higher heating, pressure and shear environments.  This test position is capable of containing two test articles at a time, one on each of the two sting arms, which are rotated using hydraulics into the plasma flow by the test conductor upon direction from the test director. The instruments that are typically installed at this test position include but are not limited to optical pyrometers, an IR camera for temperature measurements, a scanning spectroradiometer to be used for emissivity determinations at condition, and a high definition camera for test article views.


    Gas N2 + O2 (0-50% O2), CO2
    Input Power (MW) 0.5 - 13
    Nozzle Exit (Inches) 3.5, 5, 7.5, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 25, 30, 35 & 40
    Bulk Enthalpy (BTU/lbm) 1,500 – 20,000
    Test Article Type Stagnation Wedge
    Sample Size (Inches) Max Dia.: 27 3x3, 4.5x5, 6x6, 12x12, 24.5x24.5
    Convective Heating Rate (BTU/ft2-Sec) 0.5 - 1300 0.5 - 234
    Surface Temperature (F) 400 – 5,500 *
    Surface Pressure (psf) 2 – 1000
    * Material Dependent

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