Jan 20, 2014
Sandia conducts first impact test in years of B61 nonnuclear components
The Sandia team hoisted the test B61-11, an earth-penetrating weapon, high above the target on a device attached to a rocket sled capable of thousands of pounds of thrust. The motors were lit and the rocket pulled the B61 down into the target.
The nuclear package, removed prior to the tests, is studied separately by the design laboratory, either Los Alamos or Lawrence Livermore national laboratory.
As flight test preparations moved forward Nov. 20, a radio on a table in the room crackled with updates: the explosives were wired; the test team pulled back to a control facility 5,000 feet away to arm the firing system remotely; the final countdown of 5-4-3-2-1 began. A camera that had been focused on the weapon panned down to the target at T minus 30 seconds to capture the B61 slamming through the concrete.
An unimaginable amount of detail and work goes into getting as much information as possible out of the tests. This test involved a series of calibration tests and qualifying reviews beforehand, along with dozens of people from Sandia, as well as researchers from Los Alamos who fielded components on the weapon and personnel who helped set up and monitor the test.
After the test, the radio continued to snap out updates: no fires — a possibility from burning rocket fuel debris; no debris from the weapon around the target; levels of toxic gas from the burning rocket propellant at zero; in short, everything at the scene indicated the test was safe.
The area was declared safe about 15 minutes after the test, and technicians began moving cables and cleaning up the site. Later, two large cranes moved the target so technicians could excavate the B61 in preparation for disassembly at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, where it was built. Data from the test will be used to update the annual assessment of the nation’s stockpile for President Barack Obama.
Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.