The system consists of two half-cylinders that form a dome-like structure when put together. The bed can be expanded or reduced to fit around any particular airframe, and it can be split up and used to test multiple pieces of hardware in different locations.
The quartz lamps also have dimming switches, meaning test operators can adjust the heat level on the fly.
“We’re able to simulate the heating environment throughout a flight dynamically – as it’s happening. Heating fluctuates in flight,” Wood said.
That’s not possible in a wind tunnel, which is traditionally used to test the response of a structure and its parts to aerodynamic force. But wind-tunnel testing still has its place, Wood said – and in fact, it’s right alongside “tanning bed” testing.
“Wind tunnels allows us to test certain things we can’t test in the tanning beds,” Wood said. “We really need both to get the full understanding of what’s happening with a vehicle.”
The defense and aerospace industry has used quartz lamps to heat-test systems for some time, and agencies including NASA have facilities dedicated to the approach. But the demand to use them is high – so Raytheon built its own.
“We reduce cost by working within existing Raytheon facilities,” Wood said. “And, it allows us to get our testing done faster than before.”
Plus, actual flight testing can get expensive, especially given that it offers relatively little data for the investment.
“Due to a vehicle’s space and volume constraints, we’re limited with the amount of information it provides, such as temperature, shock, vibration and pressure measurements,” Wood said. “We can collect a lot more data on the ground than we can in flight.”
As a result, ground testing continues to grow and mature together with the company’s hypersonic development efforts.
“Being able to test a hypersonic system to near flight-level heating just down the road in a lab is pretty impressive,” Wood said. “But we’re not stopping here.”