Collaborative Human Immersive Lab

(credit: CBS)

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A virtual laboratory at Lockheed Martin’s headquarters in Jefferson County is saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

The Collaborative Human Immersive Lab, or CHIL, uses 3D technology to help engineers train on and improve new spacecraft ahead of actual production.

The concept in use is called motion capture, and it was pioneered by Hollywood for movies.

Technicians using CHIL must wear a strange looking bracelet that functions as a bodily tracking system and a head-mounted display.

“As he moves there’s a virtual representation of himself that moves as he does,” CHIL manager Darin Bolthouse showed CBS4.

“They can come in and review the product virtually to see how it’s going to be built up to identify any design errors,” Bolthouse said.

That means problems get found and fixed before buying all the specialized hardware.

Mark Valerio, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said beneficiaries already include the low Earth orbit Orion program, NASA’s next manned spacecraft.

“We’re able to put this satellite together virtually here in this scenario before we actually build it physically,” Valerio told CBS4.

Collaborative Human Immersive Lab

(credit: CBS)

CHIL is cutting edge for the space industry, but it wasn’t cheap. The price tag for the studio, the software and the cave was $5 million, but in the year-and-a-half it has been operational it has more than paid for itself, according to Valerio.

“For the very first time we used it we saved about $50 million,” he said.

Time is money in the space program. CHIL not only reduces reduces production cycles, it allows Lockheed to build products properly the first time.

For taxpayers, that means more bang for the buck in an era of diminishing dollars for space projects.