Pressurized chambers have become extremely ubiquitous in our modern era. They vary greatly in size and application and their industrial uses continue to expand every year. As technology improves, the environments they are capable of simulating are becoming increasingly more extreme. Let’s take a look at the most extreme pressure chamber out there…a Thermal Vacuum Chamber (TVC).
What Are Thermal Vacuum Chambers?
TVCs are specialized vacuum chambers that are capable of simulating environments of extreme temperatures and pressures, like those existing in the upper atmosphere and in outer space. They are built in many 3 dimensional forms, all with a range of size, strength, and rigidity.
More rigid forms can withstand collapse under high pressure differences between the chamber’s interior and exterior. Some larger volume TVCs are equipped with additional rings to increase rigidity.
Thermal Vacuum Chamber Applications
By creating a vacuum environment, scientists can complete a wide range of tests and experiments.
Radiative Thermal Experiments
Radiation is the transmission of heat or energy waves that move through space and solid materials. In a TVC, scientists can measure how heat behaves in a vacuum with no liquid or gaseous particles to transfer it. Earth’s atmosphere provides some protection from solar radiation. In order to determine how products behave when exposed to increased levels in solar radiation, TVCs remove atmospheric gases to simulate space conditions.
Satellites and other spacecraft experience intense radiation from the sun. Scientists need to measure how much of this radiation will be absorbed by different materials and components, and what damage or deterioration will occur.
Materials behave differently under different pressures and temperatures…seals can fail, seams can rupture, structural integrity can be compromised. By thoroughly testing products at various pressures, these problems can be identified and corrected before they cause safety issues.
Do you ever wonder how manufacturers can guarantee the longevity of their products, especially when they are measured in years? Some manufacturers run their products through extensive thermal cycling that simulates high pressures and calculated increases and decreases in temperature and humidity levels. These cycles allow scientists to see how durable products are and if they withstand or breakdown after repeated exposure to extreme environments.
Survivability (Pressure Loads and Off-gassing)
Spacecraft and other vehicles are tested to ensure human passengers will stay safe and healthy inside. Aside from obvious implosion and explosion risks, some materials can also outgas and create noxious fumes in extreme environments. TVCs help make sure interior temperatures and pressures remain constant and liveable, and that no materials degrade destructively during use.
Electronic Life-Cycle Testing
Environmental fluctuations affect the usability and durability of electronic products. Ambient air is sometimes used as an insulating medium in some electronics. Changes in temperature, pressure, and humidity can alter the internal working of electronic devices. Compromised insulation in electronics can also cause arcing and electrical failure.
Measuring TVC Pressure and Temperature
Why So Extreme?
Mother nature produces a variety of environmental extremes in space, air, land, and sea. Any products (partial or whole), materials, vehicles, and electronic devices need to be thoroughly tested to make sure these extremes wont result in damage or destruction.
At Johnson Space Center in Houston TX, NASA operates one of the largest and most advanced Thermal Vacuum Chamber facilities in the world. The various chambers are capable of reaching temperatures all the way down to -300° F and as high as 400° F.
Pressure can be measured by many different units of measurement. The TVCs at NASA measure their pressure levels in torr; 1 torr equals exactly 1/760 of a standard atmosphere (approximately the atmospheric pressure at sea level). These chambers can create pressurized environments that range from 760 torr all the way down to 5 x 10-6 torr.
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