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[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 55, No. 2            January 24, 2003
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

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Flying SnifferSTAR may aid civilians and US military Nuclear Weapons Surveillance Program is vital 'foundation for managing the aging stockpile' Telemetry systems for flight test units become distributed in stockpile life extension project

Flying SnifferSTAR may aid civilians and US military

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By Neal Singer

A half-ounce 'sniffer' intended to ride on small aerial drones to detect possible gas attacks on cities and military bases has been created by researchers at Sandia in partnership with Lockheed Martin Corporation.

The patented device, which detects nerve gases and blister agents, operates on only half a watt of electrical power, says Doug Adkins (1764), who created the device with George Dulleck (1738) and Greg Frye-Mason (former Sandian).

While other gas monitors exist, "this is small, lightweight, low power, and offers rapid analysis," says Doug. "Rapid analysis is currently not possible with any other package near this size."

Called SnifferSTAR, the invention consists of a series of tiny sensors on a platform about the size of a pat of butter, atop a microprocessor board smaller than a credit card. The forward motion of the vehicle forces air through the device.

Material in the sampled air is absorbed and concentrated. It is then thermally released (desorbed) to pass over thin stripes of coating materials, to which it temporarily sticks.

The coating stripes are located on a quartz surface that vibrates at pre-set frequencies when minute amounts of electricity pass through it. The mass of incoming stuck particles changes the frequencies of the vibrations of each stripe.

Few false positives

The altered frequency data is passed to a processing unit on the SnifferStar module. The data is then relayed to a processor on the drone or radio-linked to a main data processor on the ground. The information is automatically compared against a library of the patterns created by a range of gases.

"We have very few false positives," says Doug. "The device ignores most common interferents."

The sampling process is repeated every 20 seconds, with 15 seconds intake and five seconds for analysis. The inrush of air then clears the device sensors for the next reading.

Immediate analysis is critical in warning an endangered population of an attack or in surveying sites after alleged incidents.

Discussions are underway with a US company that produces drone aircraft to include the device among sensors designed to detect biological and radiological threats.

The device also has possibilities for use in or near the ventilation systems of buildings, or, with addition of a small pump, on posts surrounding military bases. - - Neal Singer

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Nuclear Weapons Surveillance Program is vital 'foundation for managing the aging stockpile'

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By Chris Burroughs

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of Lab News articles covering Sandia's Nuclear Weapons Surveillance Program.

In testimony before the US Senate Committee on Armed Services Strategic Subcommittee last year, Sandia President Paul Robinson said the nuclear weapons surveillance program is the "foundation for managing the aging stockpile."

Those words clearly show the high level of responsibility carried by the 80 people in Sandia's surveillance-related departments 2950, 2951, 2952, 2953, 2954, and 2955. They test and evaluate the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile and are the front line for finding potential problems and making recommendations for repairs and upgrades.

Weapons surveillance began in the US in the mid-1960s when weapons testing was done through underground explosions of nuclear devices. Such testing continued until the early 1990s.

"Since the cessation of 'live' nuclear weapons testing, our non-nuclear testing is one of the few ways we have to determine if the weapons will work when they are supposed to and not work when they are not supposed to," says Bill Norris, Level II Manager of Surveillance Group 2950. "We are vital to stockpile stewardship."

Weapons testing

Weapons in the stockpile range from anywhere between 15 to 40 years old, and the likelihood grows every year that parts might start to fail as the systems age. The faulty parts must be found and replaced or repaired.

Of course, says Bill, it is impossible to test all weapons in the stockpile, so the testing is done at random. Every year 11 weapons are randomly pulled for testing from each of the nine enduring stockpile systems in the country: B61-3/4/10, B61-7/11, W62, W76, W78, W80-0/1, B83, W87, and W88 -- making for about 100 weapons tested annually. Bill says that this level of random testing will uncover most defects that might exist in weapons in the stockpile.

"If there is a defect in 10 percent of the weapons, there is a 90 percent probability that a weapon with that defect will be in the sample every two years," he says.

Eight of the 11 weapons systems are typically sent to Sandia's Weapons Evaluation Test Laboratory (WETL) at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo where they receive more than 400 tests. This includes 80 principal tests where the weapons are first examined as a whole, followed by 320 supplemental tests where both other fuzing options are tested and some independent components are examined. Some of these tests are conducted at the coldest and hottest temperatures for which the system is designed to verify proper operation in those conditions.

Engineers in Albuquerque write procedures for Pantex and WETL technicians about how to dismantle the weapons, what measurements to take, and what observations to make. The technicians are also instructed in what to do with each part. In some cases, they totally destroy parts such as batteries and explosive components to see how they would have really operated.

WETL replacement

In addition, at least three weapons from each weapons system, roughly 40 a year, are flight-tested with the military. The weapons -- minus their nuclear payloads -- are deployed as bombs to be released from aircraft or in warheads loaded on cruise or ballistic missile systems. Because the missile systems are destroyed on landing, Sandia engineers have little or no actual parts to study to see what, if anything went wrong. At this point, a team does a "forensic investigation," using whatever evidence they have gained from telemetry or visual test observations. (See "Telemetry systems for flight test units become distributed" on page 3.)

The 40-year-old WETL facility where weapons are tested now houses about $90 million in equipment and is the only US facility that conducts systems-level, non-nuclear tests on atomic weapons and parts. It was constructed when some of the early weapons were first built, and the building has become inadequate. Thanks to congressional project approval three years ago and follow-on appropriations, that is about to be altered. By late 2004 the 18 Sandians at the Pantex site will be working in a new $22 million state-of-the-art facility that will replace the old building. The construction contract should be awarded in early February and the groundbreaking ceremony will occur shortly thereafter.

Gone too will be the old test equipment that was built when the weapons were constructed, replaced by $24 million in new "testers" being designed and built by engineers in Test Equipment Design Dept. 2955 in Albuquerque. This work should be complete by 2009.


If tests on a weapon system show an anomaly -- a possible problem with a part that could jeopardize the system operation -- with a Sandia-designed part, a Sandia system evaluation engineer (SEE) is notified. It is the SEE's job to determine if the anomaly could affect the surety (safe use) or reliability of the weapon. If the SEE makes that determination, he/she opens a "significant finding investigation (SFI)." As chair of the investigation the SEE brings in technical people who understand the weapon to figure out the source of the failure.

The responsibility of the investigation team is to determine the cause and impact of the defect and to make recommendations for corrective actions. This information is eventually turned over to the design groups in Centers 2100 or 8200, which make the decision on whether repairs are needed and how to go about making those repairs.

Bill notes that making those repairs is becoming more and more difficult as the systems age. "Spare parts" for the older systems dating back to the 1960s simply don't exist. Some old radars, for example, still use vacuum tubes. Replacement parts are less of a problem for the circa 1980 weapons because many extra parts were built and stored.

Better databases

One of the other problems surveillance teams run into is poor documentation of some of the older weapons systems.

"In the old days you could generally turn to the actual engineer who designed the part or someone with personal knowledge about the weapon design," Bill says. "Many of these people kept the designs and their basis in personal notebooks. And as long as the engineer was around, you could talk to him and look at the original notebook. Now many of the designers of the early weapons are retired and the team has to go back to scratch and recreate."

He adds that many designs and test information have been stored in boxes in the Manzano Mountains for many years.

One whole surveillance department, Dept. 2954, is devoted to building up a database of testing results of the weapons. Department members are digitizing the old information and developing ways to retrieve data -- even down to a single component.

"All these advancements are moving the surveillance program toward a predictive capability that will allow us to replace components in our aging stockpile before they affect reliability," Bill says. Chris Burroughs

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Telemetry systems for flight test units become distributed in stockpile life extension project

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By Nancy Garcia

The newest design that lead telemetry designer Rex Eastin (8232) is working on serves a dual purpose.

The instrumentation to monitor the W76-1 warhead in flight will not only be used as a joint test assembly in the stockpile life extension program, it will also provide information to weapons systems engineers for weapons development purposes.

The design is notable, he says, because it is one of the first to move toward a new concept of distributed sensor systems rather than placing all the telemetry instrumentation in a single package. The new approach obtains more information while consuming less space, which is at a premium.

Customers -- both DOE and military -- would like more high-fidelity information from the flight test units. In addition, the two physics laboratories, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, drive requirements for increased fidelity of their nuclear explosive systems, making less volume available for test instrumentation within the flight test units.

For instance, electronic circuits to monitor performance of the arming, fuzing, and firing (AF&F) system are being embedded within the system itself. Dept. 2331 is responsible for designing the instrumentation assembly that will provide the AF&F diagnostic information to the telemetry for retransmission. Using one interface for digital information instead of the previous approach of individual channels and circuits has helped shrink the data acquisition components.

Less than two square inches

The new W76-1 JTA1 will also include a distributed telemetry module. This module allows the gathering of accelerometer data using a digital interface. The module contains the signal-conditioning circuitry, analog-to-digital conversion, control logic, digital interface, and power-conditioning circuits. All of the electronics cover less than two square inches of board space.

The overall volume of the new telemetry assembly takes up less than two-thirds the volume of the most current telemetry package in the W76 Type 2F. In two instances, three printed wiring boards have been shrunk to just one; that occurred with both the terminal data analyzer and the integrated telemetry processor. The processor is not only smaller, it will record more than double the previous number of channels (250 instead of about 100).

The changes are spurred in part because of the natural progression of technology, Rex says. That is also a factor that drives the stockpile life extension program. Replacing aging components with better technology enhances weapon surety and in some cases is required because manufacturers have quit making parts that were formerly used.

The ground station communication recording system will move to a digital interface because analog recording heads are no longer being made. The recording tapes will also be more compact to store, an added advantage.

Compactness is attractive since the push to obtain more data from fewer flights constrains available space. In the W76-1, for instance, the initial requirement for a reduction in volume was to free some space that will be taken up by an inertial measurement unit (first, one built by Sandia, and later one designed by Honeywell for the Navy).

Passing major in-house tests

The laboratory test unit in December passed major in-house testing of circuits and environmental conditions, such as vibration and heating/cooling. Still to come is assembly of a complete telemetry unit in the reentry body for ground test qualification this year. The ground test qualification unit will be subjected to a mechanical and shock environment that will simulate a complete flight from launch to reentry. After the mechanical environment testing is completed, the AF&F will be armed and fire detonators. Along with the warhead functions that will be monitored, the detonator fire-down test will subject the terminal data analyzer to electrical noise and explosive shock environments that it must operate through.

The first development flight, FCET-32, of the new AF&F and telemetry will occur in late 2004. There will be two more additional development flights, FCET-34 and FCET-36, before production begins in 2007. Design work on the telemetry began in 2002. The design team consists of Rex; Brett Chavez (8233), development tester design and terminal data analyzer software; Pete Royval (8233), lead mechanical engineer; Matt Johnson (8235), terminal data analyzer design and telemetry system software, and Michael Newman (2132), W76-1 JTA1 lead system engineer. - - Nancy Garcia

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Last modified: February 11, 2003

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