Space Systems Lab
University of Maryland
Facilities at the SSL
The Space Systems Laboratory currently comprises the following three facilities:
Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBRF)
Neutral buoyancy is one of the primary means of simulating weightlessness. Underwater
versions of spacecraft, robots, and spacesuits are designed such that the force of buoyancy acting on the hardware is exactly equal to the force of gravity. In this way, the forces cancel each other and there is no net force on the object, simulating the microgravity environment of space.
Interestingly, people are naturally nearly neutrally
buoyant, which is why they can swim.
the second floor of the NBRF is the control room where
students and staff members conduct tests in the neutral
buoyancy tank. The control room has several Macintosh
computers that are used to control robots underwater through
Space Shuttle-style hand controllers or a virtual reality
interface. In addition, the control room houses a
communications system that allows test conductors to
communicate with divers underwater, with personnel
throughout the NBRF, and with other sites across the country
through the Internet and satellite links. The control room
also houses a complete video control and editing suite.
In 2005, the SSL completed the Advanced Robotics Development Laboratory, a
complete spacecraft integration facility including rapid
prototyping equipment, a class 10,000 cleanroom, high-precision metrology instrumentationo, a thermal chamber, and a thermal vacuum chamber. This unique facility is located in the University
of Maryland's new Jeong
H. Kim Engineering Building. The SSL is also a partner
in the Virtual Reality Laboratory, housed in the same building.
Located next door to the NBRF, the Manufacturing Building
provides additional lab space for the SSL. This building
contains a lab work area and many active research
projects and test beds, including the Lunar Surface Scaled Simulation Facility and a mockup of the Shuttle Aft Flight Deck. The building houses additional faculty, staff, and graduate
student offices, and also contains the SSL computer
administration office and the SSL document and data