DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Whether beating down on a jungle, icecap or desert, the sun's heat and rays can be brutal to a Soldier's equipment. Testing items to ensure they withstand such exposure is crucial, requiring a modern facility.

Materiel are tested in solar radiation chambers at Dugway that replicate the sun, from the dawn's merest peep to sunset's last sigh. Testing was recently upgraded with the installation of a new facility to replace a 1980s solar radiation chamber and outlying fixtures.

The new facility is 35 feet long and 12 feet wide, and places the chamber, equipment, and operators' room under one roof. The 15-ton facility was built by Mallory Engineering of Woods Cross, Utah for approximately $700,000.

Most solar radiation testing at Dugway reflects its missions: chemical and biological defenses, and smoke or obscurant items, said Jim Barnett, chief of the Smoke & Obscurants Branch of the Dissemination & Explosives Division. Such specialized items may be transported or deployed, unused, for months, exposed to solar radiation, heat, cold and humidity.

Barnett and Brendt Sigvardt, an engineering technician with the same branch, worked together to replace the aging chamber. They researched requirements, spoke with other users, created preliminary designs and sought funding. The upgrade was necessary to satisfy stringent Department of Defense climate and dynamic equipment testing regulations.

Testing must replicate the sun in a variety of climates, so heat, cold and humidity may also be replicated in the new 8X10-foot chamber. The sun can fade lettering into obscurity, whiten paints and dyes, and affect plastic. The sun's heat can overwhelm electronics and reduce battery life. Ironically, the new facility's exterior has double coats of epoxy and polyurethane to protect it from the sun's effects.

Solar radiation testing is more subtle than the vibration, salt spray or dust testing also conducted at Dugway, but equally critical. Sunlight is not easy to duplicate accurately; the sun's intensity varies by altitude and the atmosphere dissipates heat, Barnett noted.

The stainless steel chamber holds four ceiling lamps with five, specialized 875-watt bulbs that rotate into place at intervals, replicating the sun's changing intensity throughout the day. The bulbs burn reliably for about 1,000 hours before requiring replacement, Barnett noted.

Producing the chamber's arctic temperatures challenged engineers. "The refrigeration has to be hefty, because the lights put out a lot of heat," said Barnett.

Solar radiation testing is expensive because it's complicated and may run continuously for days. Two controllers -- one for the lamps, the other for temperature and humidity -- must be present throughout the test. "It's not something you can start and walk away from," Barnett said. "It has to be monitored at all times."

Verification testing of the new facility was performed by the manufacturer and lamp installer, but more will be required before the chamber is ready for testing, Sigvardt said. Its first test has not yet been scheduled.

Ultimately, Dugway's solar radiation testing of materiel in various environments will ensure that -- wherever under the sun a Soldier operates a chemical agent detector, dons protective clothing or deploys a smoke generator -- the item will work.

_______________

U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground is the nation's designated Major Range and Test Facility Base for Chemical and Biological Defense (C/B) Testing and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Support, conducting efficient testing and support to enable our nation's defenders to counter chemical, biological, radiological, and explosives (CBRE) hazards. Dugway Proving Ground provides unparalleled testing, evaluation, training, and technical support to the Department of Defense, inter-agency partners, and our Allies.