Large-scale test frame operational at San Diego Composites

The frame is currently used to test SDC-made structures, but will also join the SDC suite of testing services.

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San Diego Composites Inc. (SDC, San Diego, CA, US) is now providing large-scale structural testing to the aerospace and defense community. SDC’s new test frame is easily expandable but has an standard footprint of 15 ft by 15 ft and is capable of handling structures as tall as 25 ft. The structural test frame was designed to be versatile enough to handle multiaxial and single-axis loads up to 300,000 lb or more.

SDC says the test frame is currently being used to test structures made by SDC, namely Orion’s Launch Abort System (LAS), ogive and fillet panels as well as Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser cargo module. SDC also notes that while the test frame was acquired to address specific near-term needs from current customers, the test frame was also a strategic investment to expand the company's current test offerings and customer base. A significant slice of SDC’s core business is test services in which the firm plans, instruments, and performs testing on products made outside of SDC.

The current menu of tests performed on this frame consists of quasi-static, hydraulically actuated loads and low-cycle fatigue tests. These tests can be performed in a multitude of orientations with multiple axes of loading. A modification of the load actuators and instrument will allow for basic dynamic tests, such as modal testing, as well as high-cycle fatigue testing.

The test frame’s standard footprint can be expanded up to an additional 6-d on two sides to accommodate specific, isolated load cases. In fact, two lateral load cases on the Orion LAS panels require the attachment of 6-d long beams to allow for the necessary stroke length on the hydraulic load actuators.

SDC notes that as its production capabilities developed and made the company a significant player in the market for large, high-quality composite structures, it realized a key need for many customers was the capability to qualify and test these structures prior to upstream integration. As hardware moving along the production floor grew in size and complexity, an upgrade to in-house testing capabilities to accommodate the testing needs of these larger structures was warranted. SDC designed, fabricated and assembled the test frame.