Sandia LabNews

Test Capabilities Revitalization project to modernize Sandia weapon test complex

Test Capabilities Revitalization project to modernize Sandia weapon test complex

They call it "TCR" for Test Capabilities Revitalization. Second only in construction scope to the giant Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) project, it is a $110-million push toward Sandia’s future as a world-class engineering laboratory. TCR will eventually reach from the Lurance Canyon Test Area to Area 3 to Area 1 and will bring the Labs’ large-scale testing and associated science capabilities into the 21st century, its planners say.

The project, which broke ground last month and will continue through 2009, sets the stage for continuing Sandia leadership in stockpile stewardship, new weapon design, and cutting-edge science for the Labs’ modeling and simulation strategy.

"Engineering science is a balance between modeling and simulation work and having tests to confirm your predictions and develop an understanding of the processes," said Tom Hunter, Senior VP for Defense Programs (9000) at the groundbreaking ceremony in mid-February. "This enables us to move forward and demonstrate what engineering will be like in the future."

"Sandia’s modeling and simulation strategy demands test and experimental data across a spectrum from the subscale to full-scale systems," said Tom Bickel, Director of Engineering Sciences (9100). "The TCR investment — moving from test-based understanding of our systems to greater reliance on validated numerical models — represents a paradigm shift," says Tom. "The combination of computer simulation and full-scale testing is what makes engineering exciting."

Two-phase project

Phase 1 of TCR involves revitalization of the Aerial Cable Facility in Sol Se Mete Canyon and construction of a new Thermal Test Complex in Area 3. Work is under way at both sites with total construction costs estimated at $36.45 million. TCR Phase 2 will move into design next year, with an estimated $55.6 million in construction costs through the project’s end.

Facilities to be addressed in Phase 2 include the Labs’ 29-foot and 35-foot centrifuges, the 10,000-foot sled track, mechanical shock facility, vibration and acoustics testing facility, and a central service support facility, all in Area 3. In addition a proposed 67,000-square-foot Experimental Sciences Complex would be constructed in Area 1.

Phase 1 plans call for a complete renovation of the aerial cable site to increase capabilities for pull-down tests (using rocket motors), gravity drop tests, and simulated flight along a cable, says Mike Valley, project manager for Sandia’s test organization and staff member in Mechanical Environments Dept. 9134. Four new cable systems will be installed, with new anchors, pulleys, sheaves, control winches, and a rocket sled catch box.

Down the hill from the cable site, a new 5,000-square-foot building will house a control room with capability to observe six camera stations at the site, plus storage and assembly areas. The building (Bldg. 9838) will be linked by dual laser communication systems with the test organization’s newly revamped Validation and Qualification Sciences Experimental Complex (Bldg. 6584) in Area 3.

"Inherent in what we are doing is the creation of an infrastructure to support our new instrumentation and data demands," says Steve Heffelfinger, Manager of Mechanical Environments Dept. 9134. "We are working to achieve a higher design philosophy. If you drop something and it doesn’t break, that’s one thing. But understanding why it responded using a lot of advanced diagnostic tools and having the infrastructure to support them is another."

Construction of this $8 million project has been awarded to Summit Construction Inc., an Albuquerque-based general contractor. The new control building, cable improvements, and infrastructure upgrades will be done by the end of the year.

"Safety, security, and data acquisition and control will all be improved in the new design," says Mike. "The improved quality of the data enhances confidence in the tests. It makes for a win-win situation for the test organization and its customers."

Thermal Test Complex

The other major thrust in Phase 1 will be a new Thermal Test Complex, designed to help support Sandia’s ongoing fire science research. The project will replace Area 3’s Radiant Heat Facility (Bldg. 636, which will be demolished) and some functions at the remote Lurance Canyon Burn Site.

An essential consideration in planning the Thermal Test Complex was protection of the environment, while assuring that Sandia could continue to support its nuclear weapons mission. (See "Clean Air" on next page.)

"The primary mission driver is to be able to understand fire environments for weapons qualification," says Lou Gritzo, Manager of Fire Science and Technology Dept. 9132. "We write some of the most sophisticated computer models in the world and we need to validate those models with high-quality data. We can get the scientific investigation data to provide the knowledge we need, which is called discovery data, and get data to validate computational models. Then at the end of the day, we want to be able to test real systems in real environments."

Sandia will be able to test full-scale weapon systems, without the special nuclear materials, to determine that the non-nuclear safety systems will keep the weapon safe. "You always want to do that reality check. You don’t want to believe the model alone. You want to assure yourself that there are no hidden subtleties that you may have missed," says Lou.

The new complex, says Lou, will offer advanced capabilities in three distinct areas — fires under calm conditions, fires under cross-wind conditions, and radiant heating to determine how an object reacts to the heat of fire. The complex will have three primary parts: the FLAME Test Cell, the Thermal Test Facility, and the Cross-Flow Test Fire Facility, or XTF.

FLAME Test Cell

The FLAME Test Cell is a 50-foot-high, 60-foot-diameter cylinder offering the ability to conduct liquid- or gas-fuel fire and radiant heat testing. FLAME offers the potential to use liquid fuels, like JP-8 and methanol, burned in a pan beneath a test object. Beneath the movable pan will be gas burners for use with hydrogen, methane, or other gases. Radiant heat testing will be possible with use of a 5.2-megawatt quartz lamp array.

In all cases, water-cooled walls and airflow equipment will help control the boundary conditions for the fire environment. Scientists will use laser diagnostic equipment to study the fire physics. An adjustable 150,000-cubic-feet-per-minute airflow system will allow experimenters to accurately control the combination of radiant heat and convective heat much better than in the past. Fires will reach 20 megawatts of energy, with temperatures up to 1,100 degrees C.

"It’s hard to get repeatable fire data suitable for high-quality science, so we can understand the physics of fire and compare our measurements with predictions from models," says Lou. The FLAME facility is an important step up from the smaller facility currently available in Lurance Canyon. "We’re interested in big fires that are fully turbulent where the physics mirror high-consequence events. To study big fires you need an enclosure large enough so that the walls don’t strongly affect the fire."

FLAME and XTF will be controlled from the Thermal Test Facility, which will house a control room, office space, shop and assembly areas for test setups, a smaller radiant heat test cell, and an abnormal-thermal-science lab for tabletop-scale fire physics studies. It will also be home for environmental chambers, large enough to support weapon systems tests with humidity and heat controls, a diagnostics development lab, and laser measurement rooms for the FLAME Test Cell.

Fires under wind conditions

The Cross Flow Test Fire Facility (XTF) rounds out the complex. It includes a low-speed wind tunnel for fire testing articles that may include hazardous materials, including explosives. XTF will be a 25-by-25-foot tunnel, 80 feet long, designed to survive unplanned explosions. It will be constructed with 30-inch reinforced concrete walls, combined with a six-inch covering of refractory concrete, a material used in rocket pad construction. XTF will also offer radiant test capabilities, to allow for maximum flexibility in testing.

"We know cross-wind fires are significantly different with much higher heat transfer and higher temperatures. XTF gives us capabilities to study these effects," says Lou.

In addition to fire research tied directly to weapons, the field has increased in importance in recent years because of the threat of terrorism, Lou notes. "We’ve been very busy doing work related to fire vulnerabilities from terrorist threats. These facilities will allow us to do the research we need to improve homeland security."

Hensel Phelps Construction Co., a national general contractor with Albuquerque offices, won the thermal complex contract for this $28 million project, with an expected completion date of spring 2005.