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What Happens in a Mach 0-8+ Research and Testing Facility?

By Melissa Sheets

Behind the Scenes at Northrop Grumman’s Aerothermal Research and Test Facility

Northrop Grumman operates one of the few private facilities in the U.S. that provides Mach 0-8+ testing capabilities, products and services that mimic some of the world’s most thermal extremes and simulate environments faster than the speed of sound.

This critical testing continues to make it possible to demonstrate and validate new advancements in supersonic and hypersonic systems.

Ironically, not everything about Mach speed is fast

While there’s no doubt that products using hypersonic and supersonic technology will blaze past you without you even knowing it, the Northrop Grumman testing facility spends a lot of time ensuring safety and data collection are performed in just the right speeds. Actual tests times range from seconds to minutes, but the preparation for this testing involves years of expertise and a commitment to collaboration and innovative thinking.

Central Control Room – Testing Mach Speed

Men and women standing and sitting looking at monitors and working on computers in a control room.​​​​​

In 2018, our facility conducted nearly 200 tests. Our central control room monitors video feeds and activates safety features in our six test cells.

Vacuum Sphere and Ejector system

Man wearing hard had stands in front of 60,000 cubic ft white sphere.​​​​​

This 60,000 cubic ft. vacuum sphere and ejector system enables us to simulate altitude, supersonic flight and high Mach speeds during testing. We have run tests ranging from 20 seconds to 20 minutes in duration in order to validate supersonic and hypersonic systems.

30 Days of Testing for Mach Speed

Two men wearing hard hats in a manufacturing setting review plans printed on a large sheet of paper.​​​​​

Design engineer, Troy, and Test Technician, John, are preparing to integrate the test article into one of our six test cells. Preparation and post-testing activities take time. The average test article spends 30 days in our facility executing its test matrix.

Instrumentation Check

Two men wearing white hard hats review documents and instruments on a table in a manufacturing setting.​​​​​

“Our customers analyze the data we collect from their test articles during testing and rely on its integrity to make critical decisions. That’s why performing an instrumentation check prior to testing is so vital.” Dean, Testing Manager and Rob, Chief Engineer

Simulating Mach 5-8 Conditions

Man wears hard hat and lab coat in a manufacturing setting while connecting yellow hoses to a blue machine.​​​​​

“Our new Hypersonic Aeropropulsion Clean Air Testbed, or HAPCAT, will be revolutionary for testing hypersonic scramjet engines in simulated Mach 5-8 conditions for up to two minutes time.” Skip, Test Technician

Suppliers Are Critical to Achieving Mach Speed

White female with long blond hair sits at a desk with papers in front of her​​​​​

“Our suppliers are our lifeblood at Northrop Grumman’s Aerothermal Research and Test Facility to ensure that we have the proper parts, equipment and maintenance in the right quantities, at the right time.” Erika, Procurement / Supply Chain

Our Northrop Grumman team of design and test professionals, including engineers, technicians, analysts, supply chain and more work together every day to test speeds of Mach 0-8. Interested in working in a fast paced environment? Search for jobs here.


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