The Applied Research Building (ARB) is a multi-story "core facility" with state-of-the art, regionally unique capabilities to support interdisciplinary research, especially in space sciences.
The building boasts a mix of spaces including a large-scale thermal vacuum chamber, high bay payload assembly areas, varying types of laboratories, clean rooms, faculty offices, collaboration spaces, and conference rooms.
The ARB houses the state-of-the-art equipment and technologies required to successfully carry out advanced research. Learn some background information and interesting details about some of the key areas of the Applied Research Building.
Thermal Vacuum Chamber
While the average temperature on a typical April day in Tucson is about 81 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures on Mars average about minus 81 degrees. All materials – even aluminum and titanium, both of which are commonly used to fabricate nanosatellites – perform differently under different conditions. Spacecraft and high altitude, balloon-borne, science payloads benefit from testing in the conditions they will operate in after launch. The TV chamber simulates both the pressure and temperature conditions found in space, as well as the near space environment. This facilitates testing the performance of all components and subsystems prior to launch.
- The TV chamber can fit objects the size of an entire pickup truck inside of it
- It weighs 40 tons, or roughly 81,000 pounds
- It is 30 feet long
- Normal atmospheric pressure is defined as 1 atmosphere or 760 torr. The TVC can achieve vacuum pressures as low as 5 torr and can cool to the temperature of liquid nitrogen, or -315°F.
- Tests inside the TVC can run from a day to two weeks.
This nonreflective, echo-free room is called an anechoic (a-nih-KOH-ik) chamber. The chamber is built with radio-wave-absorbing material applied to the walls, ceiling, and floor. The absorptive material – a carbon-filled foam – is designed to keep sound waves from bouncing. The conditions of the anechoic chamber allow researchers to test satellite antennae for their command, control, and data relay performance.
- In an anechoic chamber, speech sounds muffled, like when your ears need to pop in an airplane.
- The quietest place on Earth is an anechoic chamber built and owned by Microsoft. The measured noise level is -20.3 decibels, 20.3 decibels below the threshold of human hearing. In it, you can hear the sound of your own beating heart, flowing blood, and grinding bones.
- The almost absolute silence in an anechoic chamber gradually manifests into a ringing in your ears.
- Over time, the lack of reverberation in a room like this causes people to lose their balance.
Laboratory for Advanced and Additive Manufacturing
The Laboratory for Advanced and Additive Manufacturing uses state-of-the-art digital fabrication techniques to design and fabricate complex materials with on-demand properties that are not achievable using conventional manufacturing methods. This space enables collaborations among manufacturing experts from the College of Medicine, the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences, the College of Engineering, and others to be at the forefront of manufacturing advances that embody the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Advanced manufacturing efforts at the University of Arizona focus on defense, space, aerospace and biomedical and communications technology.
- The university's industry partners in this area include Raytheon, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, and NASA.
- The first printer to create three-dimensional objects appeared in 1983, just a year after the first CD was manufactured.
Imaging Technology Laboratory
Under the direction of research professor and astronomer Michael Lesser, the ITL is a world-leading supplier of advanced scientific imaging sensors for visible, ultraviolet, and x-ray light detection. The most common applications for its imaging technologies are in the fields of astronomy, satellite imagery such as Earth observations, and the manufacturing of electronic devices. What's more, the lab has developed and supports camera systems used on telescopes owned and operated by the University. The lab's industry partners include Lockheed Martin, Ball Aerospace and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, while its federal funding agencies include NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. The lab at ARB is a clean room, meaning it is designed to filter out airborne particles and pollutants like dust, microbes, and aerosols.
- The ITL was located off campus prior to the opening of the Applied Research Building.
- The lab has delivered more than 4,000 sensors to scientific and industrial imaging communities across the globe.
- The lab has developed and supports camera systems used on telescopes owned and operated by the University.
- Although UV waves are invisible to the human eye, some insects, including bumblebees, can see them.
Mission Operations Center
After launch, spacecraft and balloons must be carefully monitored and commanded from thousands if not millions of miles away. A mission operations center performs this work while a science operations center coordinates the distribution and processing of data. The ARB’s Mission Operations Center equips us with with all the computers, networks, and software needed to control missions from right here in Tucson.
- UArizona faculty Marcia Rieke is the principal investigator for the James Webb Space Telescope’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), and UArizona’s George Rieke is the science team lead for the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). The Mission Operations Center for the JWST is located at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
- Lockheed Martin provides the mission operations center for the UArizona-led NASA mission to retrieve material from the surface of an asteroid, OSIRIS-REx under the direction of the NASA mission manager at Goddard Space Flight Center.
- UArizona is now one of very few American universities with the capability to provide mission operations support for NASA Class D missions.
The CubeSat Laboratory
This laboratory is a dedicated space for the fabrication of nanosatellites, often called “CubeSats,” and small space instruments, which represent the next generation of technology for space exploration and scientific investigation. The lab is designed to maximize reliability of space hardware by providing a clean environment for assembly. A major benefit of miniaturized satellites is cost and schedule efficiency: they are easier to mass produce and have a standard size and shape, commodifying access to space. They are less expensive to build than traditional satellites and, because of their compact size, they often piggyback on rockets carrying other spacecraft.
- A typical CubeSat is about the size of a toaster, though the smallest are 4-inch cubes weighing less than 3 pounds.
- CubeSats have become increasingly popular in space exploration over the last two decades, with NASA launching its first CubeSat, GeneSat, in late 2006 and now hundreds are launched per year.
- UArizona is expected to launch the CatSat CubeSat later this year.
Space Materials Curation Facility
The Space Materials Curation Facility will house materials used to differentiate between artificial and natural objects in the Earth-Moon system. The collections include rocket body paint samples, mylar, metals, kapton, solar cells, and similar items used for building and coating satellites and spacecraft, as well as a small representative set of meteorites. Researchers use telescopes on Earth to capture a space object’s spectral signature—the wavelengths of light that bounce off an object’s surface. They use that data to identify what it is (artificial versus natural) and where it came from. This work is important to space traffic management and national security. With nearly 100 missions planned to the moon over the next decade, there is an increased risk of collisions with space debris. Samples curated at the facility will help ensure that use of orbital space between the Earth and moon remains safe, secure, and sustainable.
- The European Space Agency estimates that there are presently more than 170 million pieces of debris, or “space junk,” (over the size of 1 millimeter) orbiting Earth. Any of these objects would have the ability to cause harm to operational spacecraft.
- Even a one-centimeter object could penetrate the shields on the International Space Station.
High Bay Facility
With 40-foot ceilings similar to those found in warehouses, the ARB's high-bay payload laboratory will offer teams of scientists and engineers a dedicated space to assemble high-altitude stratospheric balloons such as the University of Arizona-led, NASA-funded GUSTO mission.
These high-altitude balloons are used for critical everyday operations such as providing accurate weather data by measuring and transmitting information on atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind speed. They can also be used for more sophisticated scientific exploration, as in the case of GUSTO, which will send a balloon to near-space, carrying a telescope that will study the interstellar medium – the gas and dust between the stars, from which all stars and planets originate.
- The double doors to enter the high bay facility at the ARB are the nation’s largest doors.
- Balloon-borne astronomy fills an important gap between ground-based observatories and space telescopes by allowing telescopes and other instruments to reach altitudes where they experience less interference from Earth's atmosphere.
- UArizona is home to another high bay facility, located at UA Tech Park at The Bridges, which opened in December 2022.
- Each of the letters of the Hollywood sign overlooking Los Angeles, California is roughly as tall as the high bay facility at the ARB.
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Inside the Applied Research Building
A two-part series about the Applied Research Building
Learn about a laboratory for assembling high-altitude balloons, a chamber that simulates conditions in space, an echo-free room for testing antennae performance, ARB's Imaging Technology Laboratory, Mission Operations Center, and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory.
Read the Series
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