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Space Systems Lab
University of Maryland

Facilities at the SSL


The Space Systems Laboratory currently comprises the following three facilities:

All of our lab facilities are located on the campus of the University of Maryland at College Park .
Here are directions to our facilities.


Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBRF)

Neutral buoyancy is one of the primary means of simulating weightlessness. Underwater versions of spacecraft, robots, and spacesuits are designed such that the force of buoyancy acting on the hardware is exactly equal to the force of gravity. In this way, the forces cancel each other and there is no net force on the object, simulating the microgravity environment of space. Interestingly, people are naturally nearly neutrally buoyant, which is why they can swim.

The NBRF is one of two currently operating neutral buoyancy tanks in the US. It is the only one located on a college campus and the only one dedicated to basic research. The tank is 50 feet across, 25 feet deep, and holds 367,000 gallons of water (about the same as three municipal swimming pools). The NBRF also has complete SCUBA diver support facilities, including two locker rooms, air compressors for filling SCUBA bottles, and an underwater communications system.

The NBRF also houses other facilities. These include a small but very well-equipped machine shop, with both manual and computer guided mills and lathes. The machine shop, along with CAD systems running on the SSL's Macintosh workstations, allows students to design, build and test (and, in some cases, fly) their own hardware -- a rare opportunity for engineering undergraduates.

On the second floor of the NBRF is the control room where students and staff members conduct tests in the neutral buoyancy tank. The control room has several Macintosh computers that are used to control robots underwater through Space Shuttle-style hand controllers or a virtual reality interface. In addition, the control room houses a communications system that allows test conductors to communicate with divers underwater, with personnel throughout the NBRF, and with other sites across the country through the Internet and satellite links. The control room also houses a complete video control and editing suite.

The NBRF also contains most of our faculty offices. Additionally, the main graduate student office and the undergraduate student office are located in this building.

Use of the neutral buoyancy tank and other facilities by qualified parties can be arranged by contacting

Advanced Robotics Development Laboratory

In 2005, the SSL completed the Advanced Robotics Development Laboratory, a complete spacecraft integration facility including rapid prototyping equipment, a class 10,000 cleanroom, high-precision metrology instrumentationo, a thermal chamber, and a thermal vacuum chamber. This unique facility is located in the University of Maryland's new Jeong H. Kim Engineering Building. The SSL is also a partner in the Virtual Reality Laboratory, housed in the same building.

Manufacturing Building

Located next door to the NBRF, the Manufacturing Building provides additional lab space for the SSL. This building contains a lab work area and many active research projects and test beds, including the Lunar Surface Scaled Simulation Facility and a mockup of the Shuttle Aft Flight Deck. The building houses additional faculty, staff, and graduate student offices, and also contains the SSL computer administration office and the SSL document and data library.

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