Dedicated facility and specialist expertise proves invaluable for sustainability test programme
Verifying the ongoing performance and capabilities of in-service equipment is of vital importance for the Ministry of Defence and often requires the use of specialist testing and research facilities. This was the case when the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) needed to assess the functionality of the internal pressure sensors of a chemical sensor.
To complete the task, the Dstl team required access to a high-performance altitude chamber, associated monitoring support and medical facilities and the specialist insight of hypobaric scientists. As a result, Dstl turned to the expertise and facilities available at QinetiQ, including Europe’s largest and most versatile hypobaric chamber at MOD Boscombe Down.
Two teams from Dstl required access to QinetiQ’s hypobaric chamber for seven full days to conduct altitude testing of the LCADs (Lightweight Chemical Agent Detector) at four pre-defined altitude pressures. Additional facilities were required outside of the chamber itself. There was also a need to provide detailed briefings and debriefings for all Dstl personnel and to ensure all tests were undertaken safely and securely at all times, as well as the provision of all appropriate PPE and other personal equipment to meet the demands of the test sessions.
In advance of the LCADs testing programme, the QinetiQ team organised a familiarisation day to enable the two assigned Dstl teams to view the hypobaric facility and to explain the safety procedures and unique working conditions in the chamber.
QinetiQ’s three-compartment hypobaric chamber is capable of achieving simulated altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet, with an initial rate of climb of 40,000 feet per minute. The chamber measures 5.7m x 3.7m x 2.4m high and can accommodate up to eight people in its largest compartment. The facility includes a vacuum reservoir that enables rapid decompressions of the chamber to take place. Rapid decompressions with a pressure change of 70kPa in 0.1 second are attainable, equating to a decompression from 8,000ft to 65,000 ft.
Two members of each Dstl team used their own confidence samplers to test the detectors inside the chamber, with a third member of the team monitoring the progress of the tests outside the chamber. The QinetiQ team then completed a daily report for the altitude profile trace and ensured the Dstl teams had a comfortable working area for debriefing and handover cycles as well as appropriate storage for the test equipment for the duration of the trial.
The QinetiQ Medical Officer was in attendance and was available at all times. A photographer was also provided of the first day of testing, with all photographic evidence provided to Dstl as requested.
Outcomes and Benefits
Dstl’s requirements were clarified and agreed by both parties early on to ensure that they were well understood, realistic and achievable. Dstl co-operated with all processes and procedures, ensuring the trial ran smoothly.
As a result of the meticulous preparations and the care taken to ensure all Dstl personnel understood the requirements for such a specialist test programme, no issues were encountered and the testing was completed successfully and on schedule. Positive feedback was received from the Dstl testing team.
The co-operation and flexibility of the QinetiQ team was in evidence from the outset, and we really valued the team’s contribution and input in helping to make this test programme such a success. The joint meetings in relation to QinetiQ’s Hazardous Activities Management HAM) Level Review and the Trials Readiness Review were particularly beneficial and ensured that there were no misunderstandings prior to the testing taking place.
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