In the early 1960s, as space exploration technology was reaching new heights, the Arc Jet Complex at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, established itself as the premier facility for conceiving, developing, and testing the advanced thermal protection materials needed to support exploration missions and reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Simulating the extreme heat conditions that a reentry capsule would experience required creating arc jet systems of unprecedented magnitude and capacity. In building such systems, the Arc Jet Complex was — and remains today — unique in the world.
Although the research facility has seen myriad advancements over the past 60 years, one piece of technology, until recently, was factory original: the switches used to energize the arc jet. When NASA began to experience issues with these devices, it reached out to Circuit Breaker Sales.
Group CBS account representative K.C. Allen went on-site to get a firsthand look. “Upon my arrival, I quickly discovered that the devices were unique,” said Allen. “They were built by Westinghouse during the 1960s at the time of the Apollo missions.” More specifically, they were Westinghouse 19 kV DC 5-pole switches.
“I had never seen a 5-pole DC switch before and neither had any of my contemporaries,” Allen noted. Further, what the NASA team referred to as “one switch” was actually two 5-pole switches linked together, essentially making a 10-pole DC switch.
Allen said his team was surprised to see that despite the age of the devices, that they were still in fairly good shape. The electrical team at NASA does a great job of keeping equipment clean and maintained, Allen said. Nonetheless, it was time for an upgrade.
NASA reps and Allen’s team analyzed the cost benefit of remanufacturing the switches versus total replacement. Ultimately, it became clear that leveraging Group CBS’s expertise in rejuvenating vintage equipment and remanufacturing electrical apparatus would save NASA a lot of money.
The Group CBS team worked with the facility to coordinate shutting down power and then removed one pair of switches and took them to the Phoenix service shop. As part of the service, the team performed a comprehensive set of remanufacturing tasks, including electrical testing of the switches; evaluation of their mechanical operation; creation of a wiring diagram; disassembly of the switches; removal and replacement of all clips and bolts; replacement of all bearings; washing, cleaning, and sandblasting all parts needing paint or powder coating; ordering or rebuilding any parts needing replacement; reassembly; and retesting of electrical and mechanical operations. Everything was built within manufacturer-recommended tolerances.
“Torry Sylvester and Luis Leal from our Phoenix team did a remarkable job throughout the whole process of removal, remanufacturing, and reinstalling of these devices,” said Allen. “So much so that we recently completed our second set of switches and have been given the purchase order to proceed with a third set.”
The project with NASA demonstrated Group CBS’s unique ability to provide life extension service to all types of power switchgear — even for one-of-a-kind applications in space exploration.