National laboratories have been entrusted with the role of serving as incubators for innovation — places where novel solutions to resolve future national security challenges are cultivated, directed, and sustained. To encourage creative research and development in areas of national security, Congress in 1992 authorized Sandia and the other national laboratories to initiate the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program.
Why LDRD matters
The LDRD program invests in high-risk, potentially high-payoff activities that enable national security missions and advance the frontiers of science and engineering. As Sandia’s sole source of discretionary R&D funding, the LDRD program provides the flexibility to anticipate and respond quickly to future mission needs and to explore potentially revolutionary advances in science and technology.
For example, many years of LDRD investments in synthetic aperture radar (SAR) led to higher-resolution static images from a miniaturized package (miniSAR) deployed on unmanned aerial vehicles, advanced imaging of moving targets, and real-time video radar. SAR imagery has been obtained from NASA’s lunar orbiter; such imagery has important applications for the battlefield, as well as our nation’s nonproliferation efforts.
In the area of energy solutions, current LDRD research is probing the microfabrication of tiny crystalline silicon solar cells (nicknamed “solar glitter”). These solar cells offer potential improvements over larger solar panels, including better performance, higher efficiency, and a significant reduction in the manufacturing and installation costs incurred by current photovoltaic techniques.
Ultimately, the LDRD program offers Sandia’s scientists and engineers the opportunity to identify and pursue innovative solutions to our most challenging national security problems.