The Experimental Impact Laboratory (EIL) houses three different accelerators, which are used in different ways to simulate the effects of impact and shock on planetary surfaces and materials. Impacts typically occur under near-vacuum conditions (pressures well below 1 torr).
The 5-mm Light-Gas Gun is mounted on the red rail to the right in the top photograph. It is capable of accelerating projectiles smaller than 5 mm in diameter to speeds above 7 km/s (or above 4.2 miles/s).
The Flat-Plate Accelerator, on the white rail to the left in the top photograph, is used to shock targets to stresses that can exceed 700,000 atmospheres. Those targets can be recovered after they are shocked to be analyzed in any number of ways.
With a variety of different barrels, the Vertical Gun can launch projectiles as small as grains of sand and as large as 10 mm in diameter at speeds approaching 3 km/s (almost 2 miles/s). Its impact chamber (in the middle-left picture) can be refrigerated to support experiments involving targets of H2O ice.
While most of the research conducted in the EIL addresses questions involving planetary impacts, work involving spacecraft components has been conducted on occasion. The aerogel collectors flown on the Stardust spacecraft to Comet Wild-2, for instance, were tested and flight qualified with the Light-Gas Gun.