Sandia begins major test capabilities upgrade


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - New construction is under way at the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) Sandia National Laboratories on a $110 million, five-year program to revitalize the Laboratories' large-scale test capabilities.

The project, known as Test Capabilities Revitalization (TCR), will provide the equipment and associated scientific capabilities to allow Sandia to continue its leadership role in stockpile stewardship, new weapon design, and modeling and simulation science. Sandia's test capabilities are also used in Sandia mission work related to military technologies and applications, energy and infrastructure issues, homeland security research and other projects in the national interest.

Work began on the first of two phases in the project last month with a groundbreaking ceremony for the Labs' new Thermal Test Complex. Construction has also begun at the Aerial Cable Test site in the Manzanito Mountains on the east side of Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB).

New demands

Recently, new demands on Sandia's test facilities have come with a major transformation in the U.S. nuclear stockpile now in progress, said Tom Hunter, Sandia's Senior Vice President for Defense Programs. Life extension programs and alterations to existing weapons will require testing at the new facilities, he explained.

"TCR is an important investment in meeting the mission of the stockpile stewardship program," said Kevin Greenaugh, Director of the NNSA's Office of Stockpile Assessments and Certification. "Modern testing and simulation, integrated with computers like the Red Storm project now under development at Sandia, will inject vigor into the engineering sciences capabilities at 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 speed of 40 trillion calculations per second.)

Two initial projects

The Thermal Test Complex is designed to be a multi-laboratory, office and test facility in Sandia's Technical Area III, south of Albuquerque on KAFB. With the ability to test full-scale weapon systems indoors, it offers three thermal modes (gas fire, liquid fire, and radiant heat) with systems to accurately control test conditions and analyze the fires.

The complex will feature a 7-story, 60-foot diameter test cell, called the FLAME cell, for fire testing, with water-cooled walls and airflow equipment. Laser diagnostic equipment will be used in the cell to help understand the burning process. Systems to allow jet fuel, methanol, and other liquid fuels as well as hydrogen, methane, and other gas fuels are part of the design. A 5.2 Megawatt radiant heat lamp array will permit radiant heat tests.

A central facility with control room, office space, shop, assembly areas, smaller labs, and test areas will adjoin the FLAME cell. The third part of the thermal complex is the Cross Flow Fire Test Facility, or XTF. This 25-ft-high by 25-ft-wide facility is 84-feet long and includes a low-speed wind tunnel for testing objects with hazardous components, including explosives. To be built with 30-inch reinforced concrete walls and special refractory concrete, the XTF will also have radiant heat test capabilities.

Unique air filtration system

An important feature for the Thermal Test Complex is a state-of-the-art air-cleaning system, called an electrostatic precipitator. The high-efficiency air filtration system uses electrical charges to trap particles from fire emissions and divert them to a collection tank. All test facilities at the complex are joined to the precipitator through a duct system. Cleaning efficiencies of 90 percent are expected.

The $3 million, state-of-the-art system was added on a voluntary basis by Sandia to reduce environmental impacts as much as possible, said Mike Valley, co-project manager. "Installation of this system shows that Sandia is conscious of working in this community and keeping a safe environment," said Patty Wagner, Manager of the NNSA's Sandia Site Office.

Hensel Phelps Construction Co., a nationally recognized construction firm with offices in Albuquerque, has been awarded the $28 million contract for the Thermal Test Complex.

Aerial Cable Site

Sandia's Aerial Cable Site will be revitalized as a part of Phase 1 to improve capabilities for pull-down and gravity drop tests and simulated flights along a cable. The site features two large cables strung across a narrow canyon where objects can be hoisted up to 600 feet in the air and dropped. Pull-down tests are conducted by connecting the test object to a rocket on a rail. The rocket is fired into a catch basin and the test object is pulled to the ground rapidly, at speeds up to 1,100 feet per second, using an arrangement of pulleys and cables.

The revitalization will include new cable systems, anchors, pulleys, control winches, and a rocket sled catch box. Just beyond the canyon, a 4, 980-square-foot control building will house control room equipment, storage rooms, and assembly areas for test objects. Test staff in the control room will be able to observe the drop site from six camera stations. The building will be linked by a dual-laser communications system with analytical facilities in Technical Area III.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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