NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Historic Facilities
Glenn Research Center
Skip AWT Navigation Links.
Students
Vacuum Chamber History
The first sustained vacuum was achieved in 1643. The first vacuum pump followed in 1650. As flight began developing in the early 1900s, aeronautical researchers began setting up engines in vacuum test chambers to simulate higher altitudes. As the nation began sending spacecraft into space, the need for test chambers capable of producing a higher level of vacuum was apparent. The Space Power Chamber No. 1 (SPC) was among the first of a wave of large vacuum chambers that emerged in the early 1960s. The Space Power Facility at NASA’s Plum Brook Station, which began operation in 1969, is the largest vacuum chamber in the world. A list of vacuum chambers used to simulate altitude is below.
Timeline of Vacuum Chamber Development
Date Description
1917 First test in altitude chamber at the Bureau of Standards for the NACA
High-altitude test bench at Zeppelin Aircraft Works plant in Friedrichshafen
1918 U.S. School of Aviation Medicine altitude tank
1933 National Bureau of Standards tests appliances in a high-altitude chamber
1938 MIT Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel simulates altitude
1944 AWT begins operation at NACA Lewis
1947 Four Burner altitude test stands built at NACA Lewis
1952 Propulsion Systems Laboratory with two altitude test cells for engines
1959 Interior of AWT gutted to form high-altitude chamber
1960 McDonnell space environment chamber built for Mercury
1961 Electric Propulsion Laboratory vacuum tanks built at NASA Lewis
Republic Aviation Space Simulation Facility
1962 SPC No. 1 vacuum chamber built inside AWT
Goddard Space Environment Simulator
Lockheed’s High Vacuum Orbital Simulator
Bendix Corporation’s Space Simulation Chamber
General Electric Space Environment Simulator
25-Foot Space Environment Facility at Jet Propulsion Laboratory
1963 Mark I Aerospace Simulator at Arnold Engine Development Center
1965 Space Environment Simulation Laboratory at Johnson Space Center
1969 Space Propulsion Facility at Plum Brook tests rocket engines in vacuum
Space Power Facility at Plum Brook is world’s largest vacuum chamber
Engine in Four Burner altitude chamber
Interior of Electric Propulsion Lab
Neil Armstrong in Space Environment Simulation Lab
Centaur shroud in Space Power Facility