W88 ALT program performs successful flight, drop tests

DROP TEST — Sandia performed a drop test for the W88 ALT 370 program, designed to replicate a crane dropping the reentry body onto a concrete surface. The test was conducted at the Labs’ 185-foot Drop Tower Facility, using the same handling gear a crane would use to move the weapon. (Photo by Mark Nissen, 1535)

by Sue Major Holmes

The first flight and drop tests for the latest variant of the W88 nuclear warhead are providing data for Sandia to validate designs, improve computer modeling, and update component specifications.

Tests in June and July were successes and provide data for the program, the W88 ALT 370 (alternate), to move forward, says Tim Edwards, manager for the program’s technical basis and qualification activities.

The Critical Radar Arming and Fuzing Test (CRAFT) was the first flight test of a prototype radar for the W88 ALT 370. CRAFT demonstrated how the radar performed during re-entry through plasma generated by the hypersonic speeds at which the warhead travels.

The new radar functioned as expected after launch on a Trident II missile from a Navy submarine, Tim says. Sandia and its partners are analyzing results to validate requirements and radar design.

A major milestone

The June test was the first of several planned flight tests to demonstrate the upgraded system’s performance. It also represented a milestone: the first flight test unit Sandia and its partners, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the Kansas City Plant (KCP), and Pantex, delivered to the Navy for full-scale testing under the program.

A month later, the first drop test of the W88 ALT 370 program mimicked a crane dropping the reentry body onto a concrete surface to develop evidence that it would remain safe during an accident. Sandia conducted the test in partnership with LANL, KCP, and Pantex at Sandia’s 185-foot Drop Tower Facility, using the same handling gear a crane would use to move the weapon, making the test as realistic as possible.

It was the W88 program’s first abnormal drop test since the system’s original qualification test in 1987. An abnormal environment is one that is unexpected, such as an accident.

“The weapon is not required to function after that, just to stay safe,” Tim says.

Sandia will use vibration and shock measurements from the test to update specifications for components in the weapon, he says. It also will use the information to validate computer models designed to apply the results to other drop scenarios, since it’s not possible to replicate every possible accident in tests.


-- Sue Major Holmes

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MINER demonstrates effectiveness in urban emergency response exercise

At an emergency response exercise in downtown Chicago, Mark Gerling, left, and John Goldsmith (both 8127) demonstrated the effectiveness of the mobile imager of neutrons for emergency responders (MINER) system at localizing a radiation source in an urban environment.     (Photo by Dino Vournas)

by Patti Koning

A nuclear device has been hidden in a high-rise building in a major metropolitan area. Emergency responders have intelligence that narrows the location to a single city block, but it isn’t safe to do a door-to-door search. Can responders identify the exact location of the device in a reasonable time period without the adversaries realizing that a search is being conducted?

The answer is a definite yes. Last spring, Sandia’s mobile imager of neutrons for emergency responders (MINER) system did just that at an emergency response exercise in downtown Chicago.

“The system performed exactly as we expected,” says John Goldsmith (8127). “With an unshielded source, we pinpointed the location within 30 minutes. With more shielding, it took a couple of hours.”

MINER, a project funded by DOE/NNSA, is a portable version of the Neutron Scatter Camera (see the April 10, 2009 issue of Sandia Lab News), which detects fast neutrons that emanate from special nuclear material to localize the source, even at significant standoff distances and through shielding. The original neutron scatter camera was quite large, standing about 5 feet tall and requiring a power source to operate.

MINER consists of 16 proton-rich liquid scintillator cells arranged inside a large cylinder. The scatter aspect comes into play as neutrons travel through the scintillator cells and bounce off protons like billiard balls. Those interactions between the different detector cells enable the instrument to determine the direction of the radioactive source that emitted the neutron.

Observing ‘hot spots’

As a neutron scatter camera, MINER has several advantages over other types of detectors, including the device’s effectiveness at discriminating uniform background radiation and imaging the spectrum of the neutrons.

“Simple neutron counters are unable to distinguish a threat source from an elevated neutron background. However, an imager such as MINER can do this by observing a ‘hot spot’ against the neutron background,” says John. “In addition, MINER’s ability to measure the neutron spectrum enables it to distinguish plutonium, a threat source, from AmBe [americium-beryllium, the most common commercial source of neutrons], which is not a threat source. Among imaging approaches, this capability is unique to MINER.” 

MINER is about 3 feet high, weighs about 90 pounds, can be set up and taken down in about 10 minutes, and most importantly, can operate on battery power. “Since MINER doesn’t need to be tethered to a power source, it gives a lot of options to emergency responders,” says John.

The Chicago field test focused on neutron detectors, so MINER was one of three neutron imagers along with several neutron counters. The field test wasn’t a competition, says John, but a test of each detector’s capabilities.

“There are tradeoffs with every kind of detector. If you are trying to localize a source, a backpack detector might be the fastest, but there are scenarios in which walking around is not possible,” says John. 

One of MINER’s strengths is its ability to provide omni-directional (4π) imaging. “Other imaging detectors have a very fixed field of view, so they look at a specific spot,” says Mark Gerling (8127). “MINER images a full 4π steradians, so all the way around and up and down. We imaged part of one side of an entire high-rise building at once and localized the source to a specific room. It’s extremely effective in this situation.”

MINER is also a two-for-one detector. The system was designed to optimize its performance for neutron imaging and spectroscopy, but its proton-rich liquid scintillators can also capture gamma rays. While not the most efficient or effective gamma ray detector, MINER’s design makes it suitable for several unusual applications.

 “To use it as a neutron scatter camera, MINER is closed. But if we open it up, we can position it near a radiation source and gather additional information about that source. This could be very useful in determining how to handle an object that is emitting radiation.”

Future work on MINER includes developing a quantitative metric for characterizing detection significance, investigation of a neutron multiplication measurement capability, and potential participation in an at-sea maritime search scenario. 

-- Patti Koning

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‘Front door to Sandia’: C3 partnership center to boost collaboration and tech transfer

INNOVATION PARTNERSHIP — Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry, left, Sandia President and Laboratories Director Paul Hommert, and Lisa Kuuttila, CEO of the University of New Mexico’s Science and Technology Center and chief economic development officer, spoke at a news conference announcing Sandia’s planned C3 partnerships and tech transfer center. Paul said C3 will support the city’s and UNM’s Innovation District and Innovate ABQ initiatives. Berry and Kuuttila welcomed Sandia’s participation in the innovate movement. (Photo by Linda von Boetticher)

by Nancy Salem

Sandia will pursue a Center for Collaboration and Commercialization to strengthen partnerships, technology transfer, and ties to the community.

The center, known as C3, will support the city of Albuquerque’s and the University of New Mexico’s Innovation District and Innovate ABQ initiatives. C3 will offer programming and services to boost Sandia’s interaction with partners in industry, academia, and government, and will promote technology commercialization.

“We view C3 as part of the city’s Innovation District, as the eastern end of an innovation corridor that extends along Central Avenue from downtown east to Eubank Boulevard and the Sandia Science & Technology Park,” said Julia Phillips, Deputy Chief Technology Officer and director of Research Strategy and Partnerships Dept. 7900. “C3 will be the front door to Sandia, providing access to the Labs and strengthening ties to the community.”

The center was announced by Sandia President and Laboratories Director Paul Hommert at an Oct. 3 news conference at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. Speakers included Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry and Lisa Kuuttila, CEO of UNM’s Science and Technology Center and chief economic development officer.

 “We are excited to have another great example of collaboration in our community and the region that will increase collective impact for economic prosperity,” Berry said. “C3 will provide even better access and interaction between Sandia’s technology and the business community, and a process for commercialization with resources to support it.”

The planned C3 facility in the Sandia Science & Technology Park will house Sandia employees and others working together on partnerships and tech transfer. Sandia will look to a strong partnership with the private sector to realize the C3 vision.

“We envision co-locating some of our people there who provide programming and services that support our partnerships strategy, which includes tech transfer,” said Jackie Kerby Moore, manager of Technology and Economic Development Dept. 7933. “We can imagine hosting cross-institutional functions and meetings as well as providing licensing support, small business assistance, and entrepreneurial exploration and training.”

C3 is one element of an intellectual property strategy to deploy the results of Sandia’s publicly funded research and development for the US public good.

“We welcome Sandia’s participation in Innovate ABQ, and we foresee even more collaboration between our institutions,” Kuuttila said.

C3 will offer easy access to Labs’ staff and more opportunities for collaboration and commercialization, Paul said. Sandia is working with internal and external partners on a user survey and feasibility study.

“Our goal is to join the city and UNM in strengthening the local economy. It’s all about stimulating innovation, cultivating entrepreneurs, and generating jobs,” Paul said. “Sandia is a leader in technology transfer and economic development through partnerships. Now we want to do more.”

-- Nancy Salem

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