New tank helps lab studies

By Arrin Brunson
The Herald Journal
July 7, 2002

Folks at the Utah State University Space Dynamics Laboratory got a remarkable delivery recently when a 100,021-pound liquid nitrogen tank arrived at the site of the new Calibration and Optical Research Center.

Scientists, engineers, secretaries and their young children watched from the perimeter of the construction area in the USU Innovation Campus in North Logan Friday morning as two cranes gently lifted a 32-feet high metal tank from the back of a semi-truck trailer.

The cryogen tank, which measures 32 feet high by 11 feet in diameter, was carefully hoisted more than 65 feet into the air before being delicately lowered into its home — a new specially designed enclosure.

The tank will be filled with 11,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen, which will be used to support the large thermal vacuum chambers in the new building, according to Stephen Dansie, engineer with the Space Dynamics Laboratory.

“This cryogen tank will be used to supply liquid nitrogen to our calibration chambers or space simulation chambers, which is a very important part of our job here,” Dansie said. “This facility will bring to the Space Dynamics Lab a capability that really is unparalleled in the U.S. as far as its calibration capabilities.”

Liquid nitrogen is a cryogenic liquid inert gas, which is used in the gaseous state for purging and making atmospheres inert in various applications, according to Robert Scarcelli, vice president and manager of BEVCO. The Salt Lake City company specializes in cryogenic equipment and industrial gases like carbon dioxide, nitrogen and tear gas.

In its liquid form, nitrogen is 320 degrees below zero Fahrenheit and this inert product is used as a cooling agent, Scarcelli said. Nitrogen is used all over in industry from electronics to industrial fabrication, anything that needs subcooling or inert atmospheric applications, he said.

“In our area, I would say that there are probably only two to four of this size vessel throughout the state, and most of them are in the aerospace industry,” Scarcelli said. “Being an inert gas, it’s nonflammable and actually could be used as a fire retardant. It’s nonexplosive.”

The container basically operates as an oversized thermostat, and Scarcelli said there’s no hazard involved whatsoever with liquid nitrogen other than “if you add nitrogen gas in a completely enclosed area, it would displace the oxygen in the air in that area and suffocation could occur.”

Out in the open air, nitrogen presents no threat, Scarcelli said. The liquid nitrogen will be used in conjunction with a V2 vacuum chamber to simulate a space environment for testing and calibration, Dansie said. Cache Valley residents may have seen the SDL vacuum chamber in the movie Apollo 13, where the equipment was used as a backdrop, Dansie added.

Completion of the new 43,000 square foot building is scheduled for this September and the building is expected to be fully operational in January, according to Forest Fackrell, SDL business manager. The calibration center is SDL’s fifth building, bringing its total size to 173,000 square feet.

“This is not your typical construction project,” said Frank Walker, SDL’s construction coordinator. “Installing the liquid nitrogen tank, pouring 1.5 million pounds of concrete in one day and countless other challenges have made overseeing the construction of this building exciting.”

Along with the testing facilities, the research center will include an auditorium, offices, conference rooms, and storage areas. The auditorium will be used for company meetings and conferences such as the Annual Conference on Characterization and Radiometric Calibration for Remote Sensing, which SDL has hosted for the past decade.