By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public AffairsJanuary 30, 2013
NATICK, Mass. (Jan. 30, 2013) -- Awash in brilliant light from above, Josh Bulotsky couldn't see comfortably without squinting.
No, Bulotsky wasn't standing outside under direct sunlight. Instead, he was in the Doriot Climatic Chambers at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, which had been much darker a few minutes earlier. Then he flipped on the new Solar Simulation Unit, and "sunshine" came to the Tropic Chamber.
In the six decades since it first opened, Doriot has successfully simulated virtually every climate in the world to test the performance of humans, materials and equipment. The ability to reproduce sunshine had eluded the chambers' staff, however. The unit, manufactured by Atlas Material Testing Technology LLC of Chicago, solved that problem.
Natick's unit features 18 1,500-watt metal halide vapor lamps, arranged in three rows of six apiece. The lamps are designed to test the effects of the solar load on objects in the Tropic Chamber.
"Our initial intent was to get these lights in to give us a capability so that we can replicate the Soldiers walking in Iraq or Afghanistan at 110 degrees with full sunshine on their uniform, on their head, on their whole body," said Bulotsky, the chambers' manager. "When Soldiers are exposed to the heat of the solar lights, how will their level of fatigue be affected?"
In the past, the chambers had relied on six rows of 250-watt "red" light bulbs, which just couldn't match the true solar spectrum and intensity of sunshine. The new system is far better.
"This is the true heat load from the sun," Bulotsky said. "You can basically get the same type of sun accumulation."
According to Bulotsky, the intensity can be adjusted to mimic sunshine that would be experienced in different climates in every seasons at various times of day. He can put you in the mountains, the desert, and everywhere in between.
On this particular afternoon, researchers were using the lights to test the efficiency of photovoltaics. Bulotsky foresees many other applications for the unit at Natick.
"This new lighting system is a remarkable capability enabling controlled testing," Bulotsky said. "You can test almost anything, really.
"This new technology enhances our one-of-a-kind facility. It is the foundation for building innovative capabilities that will improve warfighter research and the mission. It's exciting to have this new capability."