Modifications are underway at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center in California to transform a centrifuge used in the Apollo space program to the largest geotechnical centrifuge in the free world. The centrifuge, to be finished in August and opened next January, following check out and tuning, will enable geoscientists to model stratigraphic features down to 275 m below the earth's surface. Scientists will be able to model processes that are coupled with body force loading, including earthquake response of earth structures and soil structure interaction; rubbled-bed behavior during in situ coal gasification or in oil shale in situ retorts; behavior of frozen soil; frost heave; behavior of offshore structures; wave-seabed interactions; explosive cratering; and blast-induced liquefaction.
The centrifuge will have a load capacity of 900-g-tons (short); that is, it will be able to carry a net soil load of 3 short tons to a centripetal acceleration of 300 times the acceleration caused by gravity. Modified for a total cost of $2.4 million, the centrifuge will have an arm with a 7.6-m radius and a swinging platform or bucket at its end that will be able to carry a payload container measuring 2.1×2.1 m. An additional future input of $500,000 would enable the purchase of a larger bucket that could accommodate a load of up to 20 tons, according to Charles Babendreier, program director for geotechnical engineering at the National Science Foundation. Additional cooling for the motor would also be required. The centrifuge has the capability of accelerating the 20-ton load to 100 g.