Sandia LabNews

Test capabilities: Looking toward future

Test capabilities: Looking toward future

To make the Test Capabilities Revitalization (TCR) project work, planners looked to the future, not the past. "It wouldn’t be enough merely to restore our test capabilities to the way they were in the 1980s," says Jaime Moya, Manager of Validation and Qualification Sciences Group 9130. "Our philosophy is to focus on our new missions."

Sandia’s Cold War test equipment is now 50 years old in some cases. In shifting emphasis away from large-scale testing in the early 1990s, decision-makers knew that some of the test equipment would necessarily fall into disuse. (The last full-scale weapons development activities at Sandia were completed in 1989.)

"There was a change in the culture and funding structure for Sandia’s experimental capabilities," says Jaime. "We went through a decade of decline . . . it was a difficult 10 years." The period saw little investment in infrastructure or staff until Sandia’s Nuclear Weapons Strategic Management Unit realized capabilities had slipped below an acceptable threshold.

A white paper in 2000 outlined problems for the leadership, leading to a decision to proceed with TCR.

Jaime cites support from a variety of sources for making TCR a reality, including Tom Hunter, Senior VP for Defense Programs (9000), Tom Bickel, Director of Engineering Sciences (9100), and Kathleen McCaughey, now Director for the Neutron Generator Production Center 14400. "Kathleen and Paul Hommert (formerly 9100) had a lot of foresight back in the time when we merged test and computational activities into one center. Kathleen, Paul, and Tom have always been advocates for us. They had a vision of what we could do and set us on a vector for success. Sometimes that took a lot of leadership courage."

Time of transformation

New demands on Sandia’s test facilities — from the microscopic scale to the scale of a complete weapon system — require planners to create spaces and tools needed for future generations of testing and development activities. This means designing new kinds of laboratories for bench-scale work and new, building-sized experimental equipment for understanding problems at full-scale.

"Revitalization is exactly the right word," says Jaime. "We are looking forward to meeting the needs of this very dynamic mission environment."

The revitalization project is coming at a time when "a major transformation in the stockpile is in progress," notes Tom Hunter. "TCR will allow us to test in environments we haven’t been able to test in the past," he says. Life extension programs, including W76 Mod 1, W80 Mod 3, and B61 Alt 357, will require development and qualification testing at the new facilities.

"TCR is an important investment in meeting the mission of the stockpile stewardship program," says Dr. Kevin Greenaugh, Director of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Stockpile Assessments and Certification. "Modern testing and experiments enabled by TCR, integrated with advance computing supported by computers like Red Storm now under development at Sandia, will inject vigor into the engineering sciences capabilities of Sandia and give new life to the stockpile."

(Seattle-based supercomputer manufacturer Cray is teaming with Sandia on Red Storm, which is expected to be up and running this year at a beginning peak speed of 40 trillion calculations per second.)

Invisible infrastructure

To achieve that integration between testing and computer simulation, the largely invisible testing infrastructure must be significantly upgraded, says Steve Heffelfinger, Manager of Mechanical Environments Dept. 9134.

"The character of the work has changed substantially over the past 10 years as we moved from a trial-and-error approach toward a simulation-based design," says Steve, who helped to write the pivotal 2000 white paper. "The character of the experiments is different, the character of the instrumentation is different, and the quantity and quality of the data is different. We need a new infrastructure to support these different demands."

One example is photometric data. "Historically, photometrics has been the key data element. Now to couple those images to advanced modeling, we need more quantitative data," explains Mike Valley, co-project manager (9134). "With faster computers and digital cameras we are taking advantage of precision data that was unimaginable a few years ago."

Fiber optic transmission lines, in parallel with traditional copper lines, will provide much higher data densities than in the past.

Another example is power requirements. "If you want to use advanced diagnostic tools you must have reliable clean power," says Jaime. In the case of the aerial cable site, power is being routed to sites where generators were used in the past. "This will make the quality of the data much more robust," says Jaime.

TCR planners have also looked to the future with: upgrades in security features to support classified information; resolution of safety and environmental compliance issues; and consolidation of capabilities that were spread across the site in the past.