Overview of the evolution of the Special Projects Laboratory (SPL) from a static engine facility to a state-of-the art materials laboratory.
The Special Projects Laboratory (SPL) was called the Supercharger Building when it became operational in the fall of 1943. The square-shaped facility originally consisted of two test cells with a shared control room between them and boiler and instrument rooms adjacent to Cell 2. The main corridor, which doubled as a shop area, ran through the center of the building. A large office occupied the front of the building. The main entrance and foyer were at the northern corner.
Construction continued, however, and by 1945, two additional test cells with a control room between them were added next to Cell 2. In October 1945, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) renamed the building, which was now rectangular in shape, the Jet Propulsion Static Laboratory (JPSL). The new cells had dual air intake pipes, and Cell 4 featured a concrete vent stack behind the building. The boiler and instrument room were reconfigured as Cell 3, and a large compressor was installed in the southern end of the building that tied into the center’s main air service system. The main entrance was moved from the northern corner to the center of the front wall. The large office at the front of the building now stored manometers. Three smaller rooms across the hall from the new test cells served as shops. In addition, a larger shop with a truck door was added to the southern end of the building.
The JPSL continued expanding and by 1946 included two new, larger test cells (5 and 6), again with a control room between them. The large shop room at the southern end was expanded. In addition, three spin pits for high-speed testing of turbines and compressors were installed in the shop area. Another large truck door was added to the south wall of the shop. The new section was slightly taller than the existing structure. By the mid-1950s, large acoustical housings were installed behind Cells 5 and 6. There were no more major modifications to the building’s exterior.
In the early 1960s, the shop area near Cells 5 and 6 was reconfigured. This included removal of the spin pits, erection of a wall separating the area from the main hallway and relocation of the truck entrance to the center of the southern wall. During this period, the engine test stands were removed from several of the cells to create room for new space-related test equipment. As such, the overhead air intake lines were removed from Cells 5 and 6 and made flush with the building above Cells 1 to 4.
1970 to 1990s
As the SPL transformed from an engine test facility to a materials laboratory in the 1970s, new test equipment was installed, including burner rigs, furnaces, melting and casting facilities, a large torsional and axial fatigue test equipment, a coating synthesis and applications lab, and an isostatic pressing facility. Also in the 1970s, the center expanded Cell 1 for the Low Cost Engine program. This included removal of the rear wall, new flooring and ceiling, and pouring of a concrete slab behind the building. An engine test rig was installed in Cell 6 for the U.S. Army during this period. It included a vertical exhaust duct and cooling tower to cool and clean engine exhaust.
New, more complex materials testing equipment was installed in the 1980s and 1990s. This included the Hot Corrosion Test Rig (HCTR) in Cell 1 and the High Pressure Burner Rig (HPBR) in Cell 6. Other modifications include cladding the exterior with aluminum siding, which covered the air intake portals. The building’s power, air conditioning, lighting and alarm systems were rehabbed in 2003.
By the 2010s, the building, which was rapidly constructed nearly 70 years beforehand, had become physically compromised. Doorways, walls, ceilings and flooring were all in poor condition. Infrastructure such as the water supply, electric, heating and air conditioning, and safety systems needed replacement. The NASA Glenn Research Center Facilities Division explored different options for renovating the structure over the years but concluded that the costs surpassed any potential benefits. The center decided to remove the SPL.
By 2012, the center was relocating the SPL research equipment and offices to other facilities or excessing it. In 2014, the center removed the air compressor, which effectively reduced the center’s total capacity of the service air system by 25 percent. The SPL officially closed in 2016. Glenn held a public meeting to discuss the impending demolition at the Cuyahoga County North Olmsted Public Library on Tuesday, June 27, 2016. The facility was demolished in the winter of 2018.