Underwater Training for the Depths of Space
The Neutral Buoyancy Lab, located at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston is the largest indoor pool in the United States—large enough to submerge full-sized mockups of the International Space Station where astronauts train for working in space. Raytheon Intelligence & Space operators establish astronaut “neutral buoyancy” in the water, which simulates the weightlessness of zero-gravity in space.
The NBL is a massive 202 feet long, 102 feet wide and 40 feet deep, containing 6.2 million gallons of water. RI&S provides engineering, fabrication, maintenance and operations support for the facility and the systems that transform it into a fully instrumented laboratory with a suite of on-site support services.
The RI&S-led team helps identify innovative ways to apply NBL capabilities in support of future NASA missions, including open water spacecraft recovery and astronaut extravehicular operations on the surfaces of the moon and Mars. Additionally, RI&S helps drive cost savings to NASA by bringing in external customers that utilize the unique underwater facility to train their teams in high-consequence operational scenarios, conduct experiments and test underwater equipment.
Since 2003, Raytheon Intelligence & Space has provided innovative technical and engineering support to NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab as they deliver unique training opportunities to astronauts as well as their ground support teams.
Astronauts train underwater on full-sized mockups of the International Space Station submerged in the United States’ largest indoor pool, simulating space work and spacewalking in zero-gravity conditions. Astronauts receive underwater space work and spacewalk training, and spacecraft recovery teams train for multiple reentry scenarios in the NBL.
Commercial Training & Testing
Beginning in 2010, Raytheon Intelligence & Space helped NASA realize significant cost savings on the operation of the Neutral Buoyancy Lab by opening it to external customers in need of “wet tests” for their products or personnel training.
The NBL provides a unique capability to customers who need to prepare their teams for high-consequence scenarios. For example, oil and gas companies conduct oil platform worker training on emergency procedures including helicopter underwater egress training – escaping from a simulated helicopter crash in the water. Other commercial customers use the lab facilities to test wireless communications equipment and robotic vehicles underwater.