NASA is replicating the power of the sun on Earth—in Alabama—to test how satellites and other hardware will survive in space.
Researchers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville are using their Solar Thermal Test Facility to simulate some of the harshest conditions of space to find out what extreme temperatures can do to flight hardware close to the sun.
The researchers use a two-story tall curved mirror that beams about 1 million watts per square meter of solar energy intensity into a vacuum chamber at its focal point, where units to be tested are placed.
Researchers have installed a liquid nitrogen shroud on the inside of the vacuum chamber that will allow engineers to chill the vacuum chamber to freezing cold temperatures like those in deep space.
In the front, the mirrors expose the test object to the heat of the sun while in the back the nitrogen exposes it to the coldness of a vacuum.
Together they accurately mimic the conditions of space, allowing scientists to test how their instruments will perform on actual missions close to the sun.