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The Criticality of Thrust Measurement Testing in Aerospace

Interface is a force measurement solutions provider for many of the largest and most innovative aerospace and space systems organizations. Our measurement devices are utilized to test various aircraft and space vehicle components, including thrust testing for jet engines, gas turbines, and propulsion systems.

Thrust measurement is critical when designing and developing aircraft and spacecraft. These critical measurements are used to build and test rocket engines for launch vehicles and missiles. Thrust testing is also vital for maintenance and quality inspections of vehicle engines and systems. By measuring thrust over time, engineers can identify any potential engine problems and take corrective action before they cause a failure.

Thrust measurements ensure rocket and airplane engines produce enough thrust to safely launch, fly, and land. If an engine is not producing enough thrust, it could lead to a catastrophic failure. Trust testing also helps to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

The force emitted by a thrust engine dictates the size and speed at which a payload can be lifted off the ground. Enormous amounts of thrust are needed to get a spaceship out of the Earth’s atmosphere or propel a jet engine to move faster than the speed of sound. Thrust must be measured precisely because applying too much thrust to an aircraft may damage it, or using too much thrust at a rocket’s liftoff can use too much fuel.

Interface force sensors provide extremely accurate data to assess the amount of force, helping engineers tune thrusters to provide the right amount of force for the size and speed needed to launch or lift their vehicle.

Thrust is measured by placing the thrust engine on a test stand. Then, as the rocket engine burns fuel and creates thrust, the force of the thrust creates compression force on the load cell sensor. As this happens, a mechanical signal is converted to a digital signal, and this data is sent back to the engineer through a data acquisition device, who can then assess, monitor, and record that data.

A load cell used to measure thrust force must be rated for extreme heat. A typical load cell could not provide an accurate measurement when placed in a temperature environment that the sensor’s materials could not handle. Interface offers a wide range of load cells rated explicitly for this type of testing.

To give you a sense of the power and environment of thrust testing, you can see the thrust test of a jet engine in action posted on the U.S. Defense News YouTube channel.

Jet Engine Thrust Testing Application

A customer wanted to conduct a static jet engine thrust test that could accurately determine the engine’s thrust, burn time, chamber pressure, and other parameters, providing invaluable data to propellant chemists and engineers. They needed a high-accuracy load cell with excellent repeatability to withstand thrust forces in very harsh environments. From ignition to burn-out, Interface’s 1000 High Capacity Fatigue-Rated LowProfile™ Load Cell was ideally suited based on their performance for this application.

The load cell reacted to the thrust forces produced by the jet engine, and the signals were collected and recorded to create a “thrust curve” of the engine. The performance of an Interface LowProfile™ Load Cell allowed engineers to be confident in the data acquired from the static testing. Additionally, the repeatability of the load cell resulted in reduced time between tests, making static jet engine thrust testing more efficient. The 9330 battery-powered high-speed data logging indicator captured the data for analysis.

Thrust measurement ensures safety, reliability, and performance.

Interface is a long-time provider of  Aerospace and Defense Industry Solutions.  Here is another video to watch to learn more about Interface’s role in aerospace innovation.

Go here to learn more about thrust and other force test examples in the aerospace industry.

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Interface Space Economy Solutions

The space economy is rapidly emerging as a leading platform for cutting-edge research, technology, and global economics. With a focus on endeavors such as lunar mining and deep space exploration, Interface is at the forefront of sensor technology, which is driving growth in this dynamic sector, as noted in our new Space Economy Solutions Overview.

The space economy encompasses various sectors, including satellite communication, Earth observation, space tourism, launch services, space manufacturing, and space mining, among others. It involves both public and private entities, including government space agencies, commercial space companies, and research institutions. As sustainability and digital technologies continue to reshape the global economy, Interface precision force measurement solutions are used in scientific research and development (R&D) and deep space discoveries, as noted in Enabling A Look Way Beyond Yonder. As a result, we are poised to play an increasingly critical role in testing the boundaries and opportunities in the space economy.

Leaders in the space sector are using force measurement products in their to design, build, test, secure and launch rockets into outer space. Interface has been involved in many of these projects with some of the space largest organizations in the world,as noted in our NASA case study.  Interface sensor technologies are also used by innovators and education institutions around the world, like the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, that are exploring possibilities and testing inventions for our continued exploration and future inhabitation of other planets and galaxies.

Force Measurement Use Cases for Space Launches

There are numerous areas in which force measurement sensors are utilized on a space project. Everything from the motorized equipment at the launch site, to the rocket itself, can be tested using load cells, load pins, and more. Some of the areas in which Interface has been involved in providing solutions for includes structural testing on rockets, launch platforms and landing, commercial launch vehicles, space exploration equipment testing, and even in testing certain equipment used for space travel and food production.

  • Structural Testing: Structural tests are critical to the launch process because the craft’s core components, such as the liquid hydrogen and oxygen tanks, wings, and fuselage, must withstand launch loads of up to nine million pounds of force (lbf). A few years ago, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) used Interface load cells to measure the core stage of the rocket. This particular core stage is one of the largest ever built at 27 feet in diameter and more than 200 feet tall.
  • Thrust Testing: A rocket that is fully fueled and ready for launch can weigh up to five million pounds. Therefore, the force necessary to lift the rocket out of the earth’s atmosphere is immense. There are several other factors working against the rocket which need to be compensated for when adjusting thrust force such as drag. Interface has supplied load cells to many aerospace customers to test force and other contributing factors for lifting a rocket into space. These load cells work by being installed underneath a test plate which the rocket engine will sit on. As the engine thrusts, the load cells will calculate the force output of the engine in real-time. This data is used to optimize the engine to determine how much thrust force is needed based on the spacecraft’s total weight and the calculated drag at liftoff.
  • Force Gravity Testing: Force measurement tools also serve many purposes outside of spacecraft testing in the aerospace industry. Interface was involved in a unique application of force measurement with a customer that wanted to develop a system to provide a full range of natural motion for a realistic simulation of reduced gravity environments. The system would be used to simulate weightlessness so astronauts’ crews could learn how to handle microgravity activities, including walking, running, and jumping. The system could also be used for surface operation studies, suit and vehicle development, robotic development, and mass handling studies.

EVENT ALERT! Interface will be showcasing how our load cells, load pins, load shackles, calibration equipement, and instrumentation are used by space technology companies around the world at Space Tech Expo, May 2-4 in Laguna Beach, California.  You’ll find us in Booth 6057 where we we will be highlighting solutions, as captured here:

Space Economy Applications

Space Dock Capture Ring Force Testing Solution

A space company wanted to test their spacecraft docking simulator. They wisedh to test the forces of the actuators used during the “lunge”, when the soft capture ring is lunged forward to latch onto a space vehicle that has been mounted. They also wanted to ensure they are working properly when engaged, and that it does not go past its overload force limit. Interface suggested using multiple WTS 1200 Standard Precision LowProfile™ Wireless Load Cells to be installed to the actuators of the capture ring. Both as wireless solutions, measurements could be recordeded through the WTS-AM-1E Wireless Strain Bridge Transmitter Module, which then can transmit to the WTS-BS-1 Handheld Display or the WTS-BS-6 Wireless Telemetry Dongle Base Station for the customer to record, log, and graph on their computer. Interface’s Wireless Telemetry System successfully measured the forces of the soft capture ring of the space docking port with overload protection.

Rover Landing Gear Solution

A space company wanted to measure the cushioning effect of their rover’s landing legs through a drop test. They want to test how much force the landing gear can absorb until issues are caused in the legs. Interface suggested using the INFRD Platform Scale, which has four shear beam load cells installed at the corners of the scale. A drop test was conducted at different heights, and the results were summed using a JB104SS Junction Box built in the scale. The results are measured and logged on the provided SD card. Results can be also be viewed and logged when the 9330 connects to a PC. The INFRD Platform Scale was able to capture the forces that was implemented onto the rover’s landing gear through these drop tests.

Like many space technology companies, a very well known space exploration leader is utilizing force measurement to stabilize their rocket prior to launch. A YouTube channel named CSI Starbase, examined a few images from a recent launch construction project and pointed out the presence of Interface stainless steel load pins on the site. In the video, CSI Starbase concluded that the load pins pictured must be used for the hold down arms used on the booster of the rocket. This is one of many Innovative Interface Load Pin Applications.

Interface understands the advancements we are making in the space economy require high accuracy force measurement solutions.  Interface offers a wide variety of solutions, both custom and off-the-shelf, for the ever expanding space economy, including sensors used for:

  • Structural Testing
  • Space and Flight Simulations
  • Launch Vehicles and Spacecraft Tests
  • Engine and Thrust Tests
  • Spacewalks
  • Robotics and Manipulators
  • Space Habitats and Agriculture
  • Planetary Exploration Vehicles
  • Space Mining
  • Space Vehicle Component Manufacturing
  • Deep Space Exploration
  • Space R&D
  • Spacecraft Landing Gear Tests
  • Rovers Vehicle Design and Testing
  • Microgravity Tests

To highlight more of our solutions and provide background on the various ways we serve space customers, check out our new space economy overview.

Space Economy Brochure

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Interface and The Race to Space

Like many, we are celebrating some incredible milestones in the space industry this year. With every milestone, there is a long path of discovery, invention, and experience that creates these extraordinary moments.

The 53-year history of Interface is rich in experiences supplying force and torque measurement solutions to the engineers and innovators of space vehicles and the structures that support them. For decades Interface has supplied load cells, torque transducers, and multi-axis sensors of all sizes and capacities to the organizations that put the first man on the moon and to those that are pursuing the commercialization of space travel and colonization of other planets.

Our legacy as a reputable provider of sensor technologies has created a reliance on Interface products and expert calibration services. Our products have been and are used today in the development and flight qualification for the ascent and now descent of spacecraft, with rapid expansion and frequency. As we enter a new era of recoverable spacecraft, we are seeing more dependence on Interface as the supplier of the measurement devices used by these remarkable innovators, builders, and test engineers.

Why Interface? It comes down to reliability and accuracy, two extremely important measures of success in the launch and recovery of spacecraft.  These measures are also critical factors given the acceleration in space travel for both valuable cargo and with greater occurrences, humans.

Beyond the performance factors of precision force and torque measurement solutions that Interface engineers and manufactures, we are chosen by the steadfast leaders and new entrepreneurs in the space industries because of quality and our ability to customize our products to exact specifications.

You will find Interface products used in thrust testing, structural testing and even force gravity testing.  Every new test and launch inspire the Interface team to keep doing what we do. In fact, you can find our high-capacity and miniature load cells in use with future engineers and astronauts at universities around the world that are inventing new planetary exploration vehicles and rockets.  Learn more here.

Interface provides products that accurately measure thrust, which is critical in cargo lifting. Every test must be verifiably accurate due to the trustworthiness and safety requirements of moving the ever-increasing valuable payloads, which is beyond stellar communication technologies. It’s now about launching and returning humans, with frequency, in the new era of space travel.

Interface load cells are also commonly used in the production and development of launch structures.  These structures must withstand incredible forces during liftoff and return.

You can also find the Interface blue and stainless-steel load cells in the designs and for testing structures and aerodynamics for payloads of all types.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) core stage is 27 feet in diameter and 200+ feet tall. Core components including liquid hydrogen and oxygen tanks must withstand launch loads up to 9 million pounds-force (lbf). Interface 1200 High-Capacity Standard Precision Low-Profile™ Load Cell Model 1260 for 600,000 lbf capacity, Model 1280 for 1,000,000 lbf capacity and Model 1290 for 2,000,000 lbf capacity were used in the design and testing of the structure.

Load cells were attached to hydraulic cylinders at various locations along test stands to provide precise test forces. Strain gages bonded to rocket structure surface and connected to data acquisition system for stress analysis. Read more here: /solutions/aerospace-industry/rocket-structural-testing/.

Exploring the possibilities of what you can measure?  Interface is here to support your vision and mission. Contact our experts to help you get exactly what you need to accurately measure your designs.