New Army laboratory designed by SwRI to support next-generation ground vehicles

SAN ANTONIO, 20 Aug. 2009. The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) broke ground August 17 on a new 30,000-square-foot facility for testing military ground vehicles in support of the warfighter. Called the Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory (GSPEL), the facility will evaluate an array of military vehicles, from light transports such as HMMWVs to heavy combat vehicles such as military tanks with hybrid-electric and fuel-cell configurations.

Aug 20th, 2009

SAN ANTONIO, 20 Aug. 2009. The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) broke ground August 17 on a new 30,000-square-foot facility for testing military ground vehicles in support of the warfighter. Called the Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory (GSPEL), the facility will evaluate an array of military vehicles, from light transports such as HMMWVs to heavy combat vehicles, such as military tanks with hybrid-electric and fuel-cell configurations.

Military vehicles provide special testing challenges because they operate at extremely high power levels under extreme environmental conditions, often requiring new and experimental technologies. Currently no such facility exists to meet these challenges, says a representative; as a result, the Army determined it needed a one-of-a-kind, fully integrated test facility.

The Army contracted Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), which has operated the government-owned TARDEC Fuels and Lubricants Research Laboratory in San Antonio, to provide engineering support services for GSPEL. The task included developing the demanding equipment and facility specifications needed for the state-of-the-art laboratory.

The TARDEC Ground Vehicle Power and Mobility (GVPM) Directorate operates its primary testing facility at the Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Mich., where engines and vehicles are evaluated on dynamometers and in environmental chambers under extreme environmental conditions. GSPEL, expected to be operational in two years, will be built at this facility and will work alongside existing structures.

The facility will contain eight engineering laboratories for evaluating hybrid-electric components, advanced energy storage devices, fuel cells, heat exchangers, and air filtration systems. In addition to assessing entire vehicles, the laboratory will be equipped to test vehicle systems and components such as engines, transmissions, axles, electric motors, batteries, ultracapacitors, engine auxiliary systems, air filters, and radiators.

To prepare this specification, SwRI assembled a team of more than 30 engineers with a broad array of engineering expertise. The project initially involved quantifying the Army's future vehicle and component testing needs.

The team sized and specified equipment that could properly meet these requirements based on duty cycles and, in many cases, the limits of current technology. SwRI then created floor plans and 3D facility models, and evaluated them based on work flow patterns, lab-to-lab interrelationships and physical plant considerations. The most significant challenge was the design of a 75-foot-long wind simulator capable of flowing air across a military tank at 43 mph with simultaneous environmental temperature control from -65 to 160 degrees F and humidity from 5–95 percent RH along with soar loading. Working in conjunction with the wind simulator will be 10 electrically regenerative dynamometers.

Another challenge was the design of a calorimeter or test facility capable of evaluating large radiators used in military vehicles. The team designed a system capable of flowing 50,000 CFM of air to enable this testing.

As part of the facility considerations, the team also was involved in quantifying the overall requirements for electricity, cooling water. and steam.

"GSPEL's primary mission is to reduce the development time while simultaneously improving reliability associated with advanced technologies so they can be used immediately with high confidence in demanding Army conditions. In this way GSPEL will help to expedite the integration of hybrid-electric and fuel-cell technologies into advanced military vehicles," says Mike Kluger, a senior program manager in the SwRI Fuels and Lubricants Research Division. "In doing so, it will help reduce vehicle fuel consumption and improve overall vehicle performance."

"The Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory will have the test equipment and engineering know-how to work at unprecedented levels," says Dr. Thomas Killion, the Army's chief scientist. "Upon completion, this facility will not only dramatically reduce component and vehicle testing time in demanding military conditions, but also give the Army the capability to exploit integration of new power and energy technologies for a wide variety of new military vehicles."

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