In September 2021, Elon Musk's SpaceX made the first tourist trip into space, the first launch in history to send four ordinary US civilians out of the Earth's atmosphere.
The future predicted by science fiction seems now so close we can touch it. But how does space travel really work and what needs to be done before exploring that unique atmosphere?
A necessary tool to prepare people and objects to leave normal environmental conditions is the altitude chamber.
What is an Altitude Chamber?
The Altitude Chamber, also known as hypobaric chamber, is a particular laboratory instrument that belongs to the larger family of environmental chambers but is specialized in reproducing atmospheres at high and very high altitudes.
The structure consists of two concentric bodies that are temporarily isolated from each other, between which the pressure can be transferred. The manipulation takes place from the outside, and it is possible to intervene on the pressure until it reaches predetermined values.
The altitude chambers can have different sizes: from the more modest ones, similar to standard climatic chambers, for testing materials; up to the much larger walk-in rooms. As the name suggests, human beings can enter the walk-in altitude chambers to undergo a series of tests in preparation for carrying out particularly intense physical activities or travelling at high altitudes.
What is an altitude chamber for?
Like the professional astronauts, the four lucky American citizens who traveled into space on behalf of Elon Musk's SpaceX also had to prepare for the mission through an Altitude Chamber.
The Altitude Chamber is an essential tool for preparing the human body for space missions, studying reactions and measuring their fitness. One of the first effects of high and very high altitudes is the lowering of environmental pressure and the consequent reduction of available oxygen. These conditions can have severe effects on the human body such as nausea, dizziness, light-headedness and loss of consciousness.
Pilots of civilian and military flights are also required to undergo the test in the altitude chamber, especially to simulate emergency landings.
Finally, some top-level athletes train in altitude chambers but not in every country. In fact, in many states altitude chamber training is considered doping and the debate on its legitimacy is still ongoing at an international level.
The Altitude Chamber for Materials Testing
Human bodies aren't the only test subjects before a journey at high and very high altitudes. The vehicles themselves that allow us to reach those heights are subjected to a very rigorous series of tests to verify their absolute stability at certain atmospheric pressures.
Particular attention is paid to electronic components of aeronautics and aerospace engineering. These are delicate and precise instruments, essential to the success of each mission, which must successfully pass the altitude chamber test to be considered suitable. Not only the electronics applied in the vehicles must pass the high-pressure test but also all the materials that are commonly subject to air transport. Among these, there are, for example, lithium-ion batteries - which we have discussed in depth in this article. They must pass the low pressure test to verify their suitability for air transport.
In addition, altitude chambers for material testing can, like normal environmental chambers, alter temperature and humidity values at the same time as atmospheric pressure.
In this way, the test can accurately simulate the most varied environmental conditions that the material will encounter on its journey
The FDM Altitude Chamber
FDM - Environment Makers has been a leader in the environmental chamber sector for over half a century. We put our professionalism at the service of our customers, building climatic chambers of all types to meet different needs and satisfy all kinds of demands.
If you need a customized high altitude chamber, please do not hesitate to contact us.