Sandia LabNews

Multiple-facility complex to provide Sandia's weapons-components design environment for the 21st century

MESA — Sandia’s largest project ever — wins DOE nod for conceptual design

The largest construction project ever proposed by Sandia — the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Application (MESA) facility — has received DOE approval for the Laboratories to proceed with a conceptual design.

MESA is more than a single building: The multiple-facility integrated complex will include $300 million of new building construction in the southeastern-most part of Area 1 (near the microelectronics and neutron generator facilities). By design it will be integrated with the Joint Computational Engineering Lab (JCEL), a $29 million project scheduled to begin construction in FY00, and the Distributed Information Systems Laboratory (DISL), a $35 million Sandia/California project scheduled to begin in FY01.

According to Don Cook (1900), MESA project director, Sandia is seeking to achieve a new level of efficiency, productivity, and innovation in integrated weapon system design associated with the refurbishment of the nuclear stockpile. MESA will provide a link and facilitate interaction among the three Defense Program nuclear weapons laboratories in the areas of weapon design, computation and engineering sciences, and microsystems development.

The tentative schedule is to begin engineering design in fiscal year 2000 and construction in 2001. The project is scheduled for completion by 2003, and to be fully operational by 2004. MESA eventually will house 600 employees.

The project will have an extremely broad impact, says Tom Hunter, Senior VP of Defense Programs (9000) and Sandia sponsor of the effort. "This project will affect nearly everyone at Sandia and is essential to the Laboratories’ future. MESA will provide the design environment for non-nuclear parts of nuclear weapons for the 21st century, and will include weapon component modeling and simulation, weapons certification, and embedded microsystems, including micromachines."

Says John Stichman (2100), Director of New Mexico weapons systems engineering, "As we refurbish weapons to support the Stockpile Life Extension Program, we need to know that those weapons we return to the stockpile meet our safety and capability requirements. These requirements pertain to the next several decades of life these weapons would have in the stockpile. Microsystems hold the promise to provide the most capable implementation of the safety of refurbished weapons. The nuclear weapons systems organization is working closely with the MESA planning staff to assure that MESA is well-aligned with weapons systems design and development."

Says Dan Hartley,VP for Laboratory Development Div. 4000, "While MESA is clearly focused on supporting our nuclear weapons mission, it also represents the leading edge of what private industry is interested in: intelligent microsystems. The demand for less expensive, more intelligent, smaller systems is ubiquitous in industry, and we believe that what we’re doing here represents the birth of a new industry. We already have industry interest in helping design the facility, and their desire to use it."

Dan says MESA is also helping with our university partnerships. "In our meetings with deans, microsystems are a high priority with them as well, and they want to have more to do with us because we will be defining the leading edge. Private industry and university interest and potential involvement in MESA provides a broader customer base for the products and technologies that MESA will generate: this, in turn, helps our national security mission by providing a catalyst for new ideas and technologies, by creating a pool of talented engineers and scientists for Sandia to draw upon, and by providing funding through joint partnerships which help to reduce the burden on our primary customer, DOE/Defense Programs."

Approximately $95 million is slated to be funneled into new equipment, says Don. In addition to the need to update weapons systems with the latest technology — to maintain reliability, improve surety, and be confident of a supply of replacement parts — there’s the issue of attracting college graduates to Sandia.

"Students in school are being trained in new technologies," he says. "The best and brightest have the expectation that they will have the opportunity to apply these new technologies in a meaningful way during their professional careers. MESA will provide a focal point for exercising their talents and for advancing the state-of-the-art even further."

Al Romig (1000), VP of Science, Technology, and Components Div. 1000 and corporate champion for the project, says, "This will create a capability to do our business in a new way. First and foremost, it will revolutionize the way we’ll refurbish the nuclear stockpile. Second, it will open up new opportunities to apply integrated microsystem technology to other important areas, for example in the way we build space satellites. It will also be an opportunity to drive the creation of entirely new industries in the United States, using our Science and Technology Park."

In the near term, says Paul McWhorter (1702), deputy director of technical operations and microsystems technical lead, "We are continuing to develop micromachines for the application of surety devices for weapons."

The MESA facilities will house existing employees. Workers will be relocated from diverse areas into the new buildings, which will include clean rooms, laboratory space, and offices. Among trailers and antiquated buildings slated to be demolished, because of lack of adequate computer lines and other deficiencies, are those housing the Compound Semiconductor Research Lab.