Large European Acoustic Facility

"There's no use trying to talk. No human sound can stand up to this."

This is the most powerful sound system in Europe -- but no human being could survive hearing it at maximum output.

Engineer Kees van Zijtveldt is standing beside the largest sound horn of ESA's Large European Acoustic Facility (LEAF), capable of subjecting satellites to the same noise a launcher produces as it takes off and flies through the atmosphere.

LEAF is an integral part of ESA's ESTEC Test Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, a collection of spaceflight simulation facilities under a single roof. One wall of the chamber -- which stands 11 m wide by 9 m deep and 16.4 m high -- is embedded with a set of enormous sound horns. Nitrogen shot through the horns can produce a range of noise up to more than 154 decibels, like standing close to multiple jets taking off.

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5 Responses:

  1. Julius Yang says:

    What amuses me most about the article is the safety feature that it can't operate unless all the doors are closed. I'm still looking for the safety.

    • Nick Lamb says:

      This feature ensures that it's not dangerous if you are outside. Thereby reducing the scope of the problem to "Don't allow the system to work when somebody is inside it", which is a well understood, routine problem of industrial safety.

      For example, you would solve this ordinary problem by issuing each worker with a unique padlock, and adjusting the controls so that if any number of padlocks are present the system is disabled. This is a simple mechanical interlock. The workers apply their padlock before entering, and remove it when they leave. They can do this in any order, and in any numbers (within reason).

      • Julius Yang says:

        I understand the idea, but it might be safer if everyone were just issued Maxwell Smart's Cone of Silence instead.

        ...or not, come to think of it.