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Lockheed Martin Space Systems: An Inside Look Into How An Environmental Control Unit Protected An Investment In The Future

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Orion

Setting The Scene

Humans have been enthralled with space for centuries, and in the latter half of the 20th century, we finally overcame gravity to make space exploration a reality. The universal gains from studying space over the last 50 years have been immeasurable. First, we have a greater understanding of the Earth’s history and our solar system. The efforts have also accelerated technology advancements in a number of industries and had a positive impact on economies and societies around the world. From personal computing to GPS to predicting the weather, our day-to-day lives have been made easier thanks to human space exploration.

NASA has led the charge in innovation, science, and technology as it relates to the space program, which has had a profound social-economic impact in the U.S. and beyond. With approximately 45% of its $20+ billion total budget spent on technology research, development, and manufacturing, the influx of money on the economy is significant. Simply put, space exploration permeates the American economy and culture in meaningful and enduring ways.

NASA is presently focused on landing American astronauts on the Moon by 2024. The Artemis program will utilize brand new technologies to explore more of the Moon’s surface than ever before and is collaborating with commercial and international partners to establish sustainable exploration by 2030. To kick off the project, the Orion spacecraft is scheduled to fly around the Moon on the unpiloted Artemis 1 mission in 2021. In preparation for that flagship mission, the capsule—including crew and service module (CSM)—underwent a four-month-long environmental test campaign in Ohio.

Delivering Pristine Conditions

Lockheed Martin, the primary contractor charged with building NASA’s spaceship, Orion, was in need of an environmental control unit (ECU) to protect the capsule as it was transported from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio for extensive testing. The capsule would be transferred via NASA’s Super Guppy plane, as well as a flatbed truck over land, and returned several months later. Lockheed Martin approached Air Innovations for the task.

As environmental control specialists, Air Innovations had the depth of experience to design a highly specialized solution that would protect the CSM from extreme conditions and unexpected obstacles.

The Challenges

At a high level, controlling the environment in aerospace applications is particularly challenging, because the conditions are hostile and the stakes are so high. Practically speaking, the Orion capsule would be traveling from humid, sunny Florida to dry, chilly Ohio. The system needed to be durable enough to protect the sensitive equipment along bumpy roads, as well as during take-off and landing. Throughout the journey, the ECU would need to regulate the temperature, humidity, and level of cleanliness, and weigh less than 1,000 pounds.

Temperatures in Florida can hit 80℉ in winter months, while the climate in Ohio may dip as low 20℉. In addition, the temperature inside a plane and outside of it can differ by 50℉. Unique to this application, these climate fluctuations would happen rapidly—from the ground in Florida to 10,000 feet cruising altitude—and the system was required to adapt immediately.

Another obstacle unique to this project was power. Vehicles that travel on the ground operate at 60hz power in the U.S. However, the Super Guppy operates at 400Hz frequency, so the system was required to operate at both frequencies while on the ground and in the air.

Most ECUs of this caliber weigh upwards of 3,000 pounds. Due to the weight of, and aboard, the Super Guppy, Lockheed Martin specified that the custom unit does not exceed 1,000 pounds. This included everything from the nuts, bolts, and fans to ducts, power cords, and converters. Air Innovations engineers also needed to find a way to combat condensate associated with changes in temperature and pressure aboard the plane. Since the system would collect upwards of 8 gallons of water from condensation—with each gallon weighing 8.35 pounds—the Super Guppy would gain an extra 67 pounds while in flight. In other words, no detail was insignificant when it came to thinking through the system that would ultimately protect the Orion capsule.

The Scope Of The Solutions

Aerospace
Over an 18 month period, Air Innovations collaborated with Lockheed Martin to design, test, and manufacture a highly specialized environmental control unit configured to maintain a pristine environment within the CSM cover.

“The opportunity to work with the incredibly talented engineers at Lockheed Martin on such an exciting project was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the entire Air Innovations team. I had the privilege of seeing the project through to fruition—from aboard a C130 following the Super Guppy to the caravan ensuring its safe arrival at Plum Brook and back home to Kennedy several months later. What a thrill.”

-David Martini, Design Engineer, Air Innovations

Climate Control

To tackle the significant fluctuations in temperature and humidity, Air Innovations started by conducting extensive heat load calculations. In anticipation of extreme weather conditions, the system was designed to tolerate ambient temperatures up to 120℉, with a max dewpoint of 96℉—which required 10,000 BTUs/h. The evaporator coil was set to control the temperature between 63-81℉ with less than 60% relative humidity at all times. The finished product also included hot-gas bypass refrigeration control and a 12.5KW electric re-heater.

The painted aluminium unit featured E-coated evaporator and condenser coils to prevent corrosion from salt air. The system was configured at 1,350 CFM capacity, delivered at 0.5” wc static pressure. In addition, an integral tank was installed to collect condensate while in flight.

Finally, the team created a model based on predictions of what was expected to happen while the capsule was in transit. The ECU was tested under those extreme conditions at the Air Innovations test facility in Syracuse, New York.

Power

To further guard against power or system failure, the unit came with a custom power converter to transform 60Hz to 400Hz frequency when being transported from the ground to the Super Guppy. In addition, an input current and voltage meter were installed to ensure the quality of power.

Aerospace
Cleanliness

The unit also came equipped with multiple filters, including carbon and HEPA filters. Ninety-five percent of the air coming into the unit was re-circulated from under the CSM cover. The pre-filtered air was passed over an electric heater for precise temperature control. The supply air was then passed through the HEPA filter to remove any loose debris to reach 99.97% cleanliness, high enough to pass even rigorous cleanroom standards, before being delivered to the capsule.

To function while on the ground, and in flight, the remaining 5% was make-up air used to pressurize the capsule and was drawn into the ECU from the outside.

Redundancies

Failure of any kind was simply not an option during transport of the Orion capsule. However, there is only so much that can be done, do to safeguard against system breakdowns. As a result, Air Innovations built-in redundancies in certain areas more apt to fail than others. For instance, fan blades and motors are known to malfunction now and again, resulting in stagnant air that is unable to be cooled or heated. Air Innovations had two fans operating in tandem at all times. Similarly, our engineers incorporated two banks of heaters since the risk of freezing was far greater than the risk of overheating, particularly in flight. Lastly, redundant controls operated completely independently of one another ensuring that the entire chain of operation was protected.

Weight

Meeting the stringent mass requirements meant that Air Innovations needed to discard conventional ECU design and start from scratch. The process involved constantly trying to achieve a balance between weight restrictions and function. For instance, a larger and heavier ECU meant less insulation for the CSM cover. Conversely, more insulation made the cover heavier and left less for the ECU. Through trial and error, engineers at Air Innovations were able to strike that balance to achieve optimal functionality, while maintaining a weight of 1,012 pounds and measuring 26” X 60” X 56.” Central to the efficiency of this process was a strong collaboration with the team at Lockheed Martin.

Among NASA’s many contributions to society perhaps one of its greatest is the legacy of innovation and pride, it fosters in the U.S. and worldwide. Indeed, the Orion capsule passed by the Edison Elementary School in Milan, Ohio as it made the three-hour trek from Mansfield Lahm Airport to Plum Brook. The crew and truck transporting the CSM stopped for a spontaneous check to the delight of the students and school staff. They indulged the children’s’ questions and allowed the local community to take photographs. Like the elementary school children, it was a great honor for Air Innovations to play a supporting role in NASA’s next adventure in space exploration.

“Collaborating with the group at Air Innovations on their environmental control unit was highly productive and, ultimately, more successful than we could have imagined. We threw a lot of requirements and obstacles at them and they rolled with the punches like the experts they are. In fact, word got out about the ECU, and several groups within Lockheed, and even a few at NASA, are considering it for future use. It will be a long-lasting investment.”

-Jeanette Lipe, Mechanical Engineer, Lockheed Martin

Aerospace Environmental Control Unit For Lockheed Martin Space Systems: Protecting An Investment In The Future

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Aerospace environmental control unit for the orion spaceship capsuleLockheed Martin, leader in space innovation, asked Air Innovations to customize an aerospace environmental control unit (ECU) to support the Orion program’s space capsule while earth-side. The system would need to protect the capsule during transportation on the ground, as well as in the air aboard a Super Guppy, until the unit was connected to the rocket. It would also need to maintain the environment within the capsule after re-entry and landing.

The Challenge 

The challenge was countering significant fluctuations in temperature and pressure that could jeopardize the Orion capsule’s highly sensitive electronics. The system would need to tolerate ambient temperatures up to 120℉, with a max dewpoint of 96℉—the latter alone requiring 10,000 BTUs/h.

In addition to the challenges of exposure to extreme environments, the design parameters presented strict weight restrictions for transporting the capsule and the Air Innovations ECU. The solution provided by Air Innovations would have to abide by strict weight limits and not exceed 800 pounds. Our engineers would also need to find a way to combat condensate associated with changes in temperature and pressure aboard an airplane.

Lastly, given the incredibly valuable nature of the space program technology, the system devised by Air Innovations would have to be highly adaptable to every possible scenario, including power outages and system failures more common on airplanes and sea vessels.

Orion front view

The Solution

Air Innovations designed, tested and manufactured a specialized environmental control unit—with its own redundancy built in—configured to provide recirculated air control to the CSM cover. To further guard against power or system failure, the unit utilized a custom power converter to change 60Hz to 400Hz frequency when being transported from the ground to the airplane or ship. In addition, the unit was equipped with an input current and voltage meter to ensure the power quality.

A key initial step was to perform extensive heat load calculations, which were complex due to exposure to extreme environments. In addition, Air Innovations defined the test protocol for Lockheed Martin.

To function while inside the Super Guppy on the ground and in flight, make-up air was used to pressurize the capsule and was drawn into the ECU from the ambient air. The evaporator coil was set to a temperature ideal for humidity control and to achieve maximum cooling requirements. Then, the air was passed over an electric heater for precise temperature control. Finally, the system was engineered to pass air through a HEPA filter before being delivered to the capsule.

The painted aluminum unit was configured at 1,350 CFM capacity, delivered at 0.5” wc static pressure. The unit also featured E-coated evaporator and condenser coils to prevent corrosion from salt air. In addition, an integral tank was installed to collect and drain condensate while in flight.

The aerospace environmental control unit was designed to control the temperature between 63-81℉ with less than 60% relative humidity at all times. The finished product also included hot-gas bypass refrigeration control and a 12.5KW electric re-heater.

Orion side view

The Result:

An environmental control system that included the following:

  • Cooling, heating, dehumidification, pre-filtration and HEPA filtration
  • A 60Hz to 400Hz frequency power converter
  • The unit measured 26” X 60” X 56”
  • Design output conditions of 63°F -81°F ±2°F with less than 60% RH
  • Maximum dewpoint of 96°F
  • 1,350 CFM fixed airflow capacity
  • 5” external static pressure
  • Separate auto-tuning PID loop controllers for temperature and read-only for humidity
  • ISO class 8 to 99.97% @ 0.3µ HEPA
  • E-coated evaporator and condenser coils
  • Integral air-cooled condenser with nominal 2.5 ton scroll compressor
  • Hot-gas bypass refrigeration control
  • 5kW electric re-heater
  • Meets all UL certification requirements

 

If you’re ready for a custom solution from Air Innovations, like this custom pharmaceutical environmental control unit, contact us by submitting a Project Inquiry or by calling 1-800-835-3268 today.

If you would like to see case studies for other industries, view our general case studies page. If you are interested in seeing more case studies for the semiconductor industry, look at the items below. We also have whitepapers available covering the aerospace industry, the semiconductor industry, and our Micro Environments product line. The whitepaper page can be found here.

Portable Environmental Control System – Aerospace Case Study

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Rocket launchingThe Challenge:

Our aerospace customer challenged us with designing and manufacturing a trailer-mounted, portable environmental control system (PECS) that was self-powered (generators included) with 100% redundancy. The PECS needed to condition the rocket on the way to the launchpad. The aerospace environmental control unit (ECU) needed to control temperature to ±2°F and keep humidity levels between 10%-50% RH at any temperature in the range (45-95°F). In addition, the aerospace ECU needed to prevent contamination of the payload by ensuring tight control of particle cleanliness as well as removal of hydrocarbons. Lastly, the system needed Wi-Fi communication of all systems for remote control capabilities.

The Solution:

Air Innovations designed a self-contained aerospace environmental control unit that could regulate humidity between 10%-50% RH and control temperature output to ±2°F. The system was portable and trailer-mounted with 100% outside air supplied for continuous temperature and humidity control to the Payload Fairing. We achieved automatic control of the airflow characteristics by using programmable logic controllers which can be set by the operator. This aerospace ECU is the largest cooling system Air Innovations has designed and manufactured, requiring 553-2,133 SCFM ±67 SCFM.

The ECU has dehumidification ability with “%RH” or “Dewpoint” modes of control. In “%RH” mode, the unit will be able to provide outlet air at 10%-50% RH at any included selected temperature/flow rate. The “Dewpoint” mode includes desiccant reactivation and provides outlet air at a selectable 25-42.5°F dp at any included temperature/flow rate.

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“I’m really impressed with the how the unit is responding to the test parameters, and the recovery times are exceptionally impressive. Your attention to detail and expertise is very evident with how the PECS is performing during this final test phase.”

-Ed Duben, Mission Management, United Launch Alliance

The Result:

  • A portable environmental control system with temperature control between 45-95°F to within ±2°F
  • Humidity control between 10%-50% RH
  • 40 to 160 lb/min, controlled to within 5lb/min airflow rates
  • 36wg external positive static pressure
  • ISO Class 5 air cleanliness
  • Ambient design operating conditions 81°F wb to 96°F db in summer and 29°F wb to 30°F db in winter
  • 100% Redundancy (No shared components or controls and both units operate at 100% flow and control continuously so that switch-over is instantaneous)

If you are interested in reading more case studies for the aerospace industry, look at the related case studies below. If you would like to see case studies for other industries, view our general case studies page. We also have whitepapers available covering the aerospace industry, the semiconductor industry, and our Micro Environments product line. These whitepapers can be found here.

Aerospace Environmental Control Units in a Semi-Tropical, Salt-Air Environment

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The Challenge

Aerospace environmental control units for salt-air environmentAir Innovations was tasked with creating an aerospace environmental control unit (ECU) to support various needs of a major aerospace industry client. This client is located in close proximity to the ocean, which makes salt corrosion a concern. The ECU would need to be protected against the salt environment in order to preserve longevity. Ambient conditions were expected to be 95Fdb/80Fwb in the summer and 19Fdb/16Fwb during winter.

The Solution

Three painted-aluminum aerospace environmental control units were needed for this project, with ECUs 1 & 2 being identical at 1,000-4,000CFM capacity and ECU 3 being at 500-1,800CFM capacity. All three aerospace cooling units capitalize on once-through air delivered at 36” wc static pressure and feature salt-environment protective coatings to prevent corrosion from the salt environment. These aerospace environmental control units were designed to control temperature to within ±5°F for any set point in the range 70-95°F and include humidifiers to keep humidity within 30%-50% RH.  The finished products also include hot-gas bypass refrigeration control variable speed scroll compressors and electric re-heat.

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As part of the solution, Air Innovations provided an on-site start-up technician to complete post-shipment start-up and training.

The Result

  • Three separate painted-aluminum aerospace environmental control units were created for this project
  • Each ECU measured 16’L X 6.5’W X 11’H
  • The ECUs used once-through air, controlled remotely by control-room computers
  • 70°F – 95°F ± 5°F temperature control; 30% – 50% RH ±2% RH
  • Variable speed-scroll compressors and hot gas bypass were used to manage refrigerant unloading
  • Humidification capacity equals 172 lbs/hr (ECUs 1 & 2) and 85 lbs/hr (ECU 3)
  • 60 kW (ECUs 1 & 2) and 30 kW (ECU 3) of electric re-heat
  • ISO Class 8 filtration to 99.95% @ 0.3µ HEPA
  • Designed for 20-year life

If you are interested in seeing more case studies for the aerospace industry, look at the items below. If you would like to see case studies for other industries, view our general case studies page. We also have whitepapers available covering the aerospace industry, the semiconductor industry, and our Micro Environments product line. These whitepapers can be found here.

Aerospace: Portable Cleanroom Control

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The Challenge:Advancair aerospace environmental control unit

A prime aerospace and defense corporation came to us with a calibration system challenge in their airborne laser defense system. The calibration system needed to mount inside a modified Boeing-747 designed as a missile defense system to destroy tactical ballistic missiles. The missile defense system used two kilowatt-class Target Illuminator Lasers for target tracking. These lasers needed to remain precisely calibrated to ensure accuracy at all times, and their calibration had to be performed under highly controlled environmental conditions.

Read our aerospace whitepaper: Neutralizing Nature

[An inaccurate missile defense system means inbound missiles are more likely to make it through defenses – the exact thing the missile defense system is trying to prevent!]

The Solution:

Air Innovations designed a portable, self-contained portable cleanroom air conditioner system that sits outside the plane and is connected via flex duct to the avionics that carry the laser-guided missiles. After each sortie, optics in the lasers are recalibrated in the cleanroom-level conditions the Air Innovations environmental control unit creates. This aerospace environmental control system is equipped with high-static blowers that push through not only the required HEPA filters but also through extensive ducting.

The Result:

1. All design specifications were met.

2. The portable cleanroom control system includes cooling, heating, humidification, HEPA filtration and all necessary controls.

3. The solution was designed, tested, and manufactured at the Air Innovation’s facility.

4. Air Innovations’ largest unit built with wheels.

If you’re ready for a custom solution from Air Innovations, contact us by submitting a quick Project Inquiry or by calling 1-800-835-3268 today.

If you are interested in viewing more case studies for the aerospace industry, look at the attached case studies below. If you would like to see case studies for other industries, view our general case studies page. We also have whitepapers available covering the aerospace industry, the semiconductor industry, and our Micro Environments product line. These whitepapers can be found here.

Aerospace: Environmental Control Systems & PECS

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The Challenge:

Portable environmental control system (PECS) with adjustable output temperatures

Air Innovations Environmental Control Unit on Way to Launch

Air Innovations’ client and NASA partner, Orbital Sciences Corp. (now Northrop Grumman), needed to condition the key stages of the Antares rocket system – including its payload and core – during pre-launch. The rocket would be outfitted with its payload about a mile from the launch site. Then it would be towed in a horizontal position to the site, a lengthy process during which the contents of the payload section would need to be maintained at pre-set temperature, humidity, filtration, and pressurization parameters unique to that particular flight’s payload. The portable environmental control system (PECS) would need to accompany the rocket on its slow journey to the pad, steadily supplying the payload’s specific needs.

The biggest challenge in this phase was to create an aerospace-suitable environmental control system with a wide range of adjustable output temperatures (45°–85°F / 7°–29.5°C) and humidity levels (10%-60%RH) while providing once-through, steady-state air and operating in outside air and in a salt environment. This would require the environmental control unit to provide a wide range of air flows, humidification/dehumidification, cooling & heating, HEPA filtration, pressurization, and protective coatings.

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Once at the pad, the rocket would be raised into a vertical position, but would still require additional environmental control until launch. The custom environmental control units (ECUs) required to regulate the payload and core at this point needed to be in a fixed location in a bunker under the pad, and those ECUs needed to be managed from a remote location. The payload environmental control system required similar tolerances and specifications to the portable environmental control system, but would be water-cooled.

The ECUs designed to control conditions in the three bays of the rocket’s stage-1 core also needed to operate over a wide range (50°–100°F / 10°–38°C) using outside salt-air, but with a variable maximum dew-point setting. The typical dew point maximum for “core” cooling ECUs would be 45°F (7°C), but that dew point would need to drop significantly – to a dew point of -7.6°F (-22°C) – to allow the fueling process to begin. [Note: Rocket fuel is delivered at very low temperatures, and if the dew point of the external air is higher than the temperature of the rocket fuel delivery system, icing occurs. This is a very dangerous condition that you would want to avoid during a launch.]

The Solution:

Air Innovations applied knowledge from designing and manufacturing other aerospace environmental control systems to facilitate a solution to the complex challenges inherent in this application (e.g. an explosion-proof, Class 1, Division II system that provides low humidity to a payload during the installation process and is located in salt-air conditions on the U.S. West Coast at a facility where satellites are flown into polar orbit).

Movable thermostatting unit MTU for aerospaceAir Innovations built an air-cooled, portable environmental control system (PECS) on a 25-foot trailer for the trip from the payload-outfitting location to the pad. The company also designed and built three water-cooled environmental control units (ECUs) for the pad location: one for the payload and two systems (with multiple subsystems) for the core. [Note: All of these systems were among the largest ever designed and manufactured by Air Innovations.]

Each of the aerospace environmental control units for the payload (both fixed and portable) provides 1100 to 2200 cubic feet minute (cfm) airflow, 27 tons of cooling, and 60kW of heating. The fixed ECUs that regulate conditions for the core provide 1200 to 2400 cfm airflow, 45 tons of cooling, and 65kW of heat apiece; in addition to two in-line desiccant dryers that help achieve the required dew point of -7.6°F (-22°C) for fueling the rocket. Units were configured to provide once-through, steady-state air.

The Result:

Orbital’s Antares rockets (test launch and those destined for the International Space Station) were successfully launched from the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

1. All design specifications were met for each of the three types of environmental control systems:Antares launch with underground water-cooled aerospace ecu

a. PECS (portable environmental control system for payload cooling during transportation),
b. Payload (water-cooled system at the platform for payload cooling), and
c. Core (water-cooled systems at the platform for regulating the stage-1 core)

2. The environmental control systems included cooling, heating, humidification/dehumidification, and filtration:

a. 27- or 45-ton nominal cooling with electronic evaporator pressure regulating refrigeration control per system
b. 60-65kW of heating per system
c. 70 lbs/hr nominal humidification in PECS and payload environmental control systems.
d. Integral HEPA filtration to meet ISO Class 7 standards in PECS and payload ECUs
e. Desiccant drying in ECUs for maintaining a low dew point during fueling

3. Output Conditions:

a. 45° to 85°F (7° to 29.5°C) at 10% to 60% relative humidity on the portable environmental control system and fixed payload cooling ECU
b. 50°–100°F (10°–38°C) at a max dew point of 45°F (7°C), switching to a max dew point of -7.6°F (-22°C) on the core ECUs

4. 1100 – 2200 or 1200 – 2400 CFM variable airflow operational range

If you’re ready for a custom solution from Air Innovations (just like this custom linear accelerator cooling system), contact us by submitting a quick Project Inquiry or by calling 1-800-835-3268 today. We’re looking forward to talking to you!

Our Aerospace Environmental Control Systems page goes over more of our work within the aerospace industry. If you would like to see additional case studies for aerospace and other industries, visit our general case studies page.

Click here to download our aerospace whitepaper “Neutralizing Nature” which outlines some of the challenges of environmental control in aerospace applications. We also have whitepapers available covering the pharmaceutical industry, the semiconductor industry, and our Micro Environments product line. These whitepapers can be found here.