Put a missile launcher on a huge table that's mounted on hydraulic pistons, and sitting on concrete pylons that go down 25-feet to bedrock, and what do you have? The Six Degrees of Freedom Vibration Table at the Redstone Test Center's Dynamic Test Lab.
In World War II, the Army learned that high-tech systems often need to be tested in real world conditions, before their actual use. "Radar for example... they were failing miserably in the field, and a lot of it was traced back to vibration problems," says Michael Hale, a Principal Researcher at the Dynamic Test Division. As Hale puts it, the Army has known for more than 60 years that engineers have to be diligent when they're doing qualification programs for any fielded missile systems.
These days, the Redstone Test Center makes use of the Six Degrees of Freedom Vibration Table. It's able to vibrate a payload in six different ways, all at the same time. This is far better than the old system of one kind of vibration at a time. "It's absolutely a better test. A much higher correlation to field data. And, by the way, we can do it in a shorter time frame," says Hale.
The custom-made vibration table has pistons powerful enough to shake a 5,000 pound payload. The table is custom-built, and the only one the Army has. "It's very important. In the case of a missile system with energetics (fuel or explosives) involved, you want to make sure of two things. One, when we place this in the hands of a soldier, first of all, it's safe. And then, secondly it's still going to be able to conduct its mission and acquire a target... so it's critical," says Mike Hale.
Most every missile system in the Army's arsenal has been, or will be tested on the Six Degrees of Freedom equipment. It's the latest high-tech way to make sure that old-fashioned rough treatment doesn't stop our soldiers from safely and effectively doing their job.