‘Superfuge’ test combines multiple environments on one comprehensive weapon system

Credit: Photo by Randy Montoya / Sandia National Laboratories.

LIVERMORE, Calif. – A team of engineers from Sandia National Laboratories developed a new test facility to support their nuclear weapons mission. The team completed its first combined environmental test on a complete weapon system at the Sandia Superfuge / Centrifuge complex in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In a successful test, weapons engineers simulated three environments – acceleration, vibration, and spin – simultaneously on an inert experimental test system built by Sandia and used in conjunction with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In a laboratory setting, the test created the harsh environments that weapon systems are exposed to from launch until re-entry through the atmosphere.

Sandia is the design and engineering laboratory for most of the non-nuclear components in the US nuclear weapons depot. The Nuclear Security Enterprise relies on Sandia for its sophisticated testing and computer modeling to qualify non-nuclear systems as part of its warehouse management role. The laboratories’ work to modify and upgrade inventory through lifetime extension and modernization programs ensures its safety and reliability.

Simulation of flight-like environments on a full weapon system

Traditionally, engineers have separately simulated and tested every environment that weapon systems and components would experience – vibration, shock, spin, and inertial load. Over the years, Sandia has refined these tests and developed skills to test more than one environment at a time.

“For the past ten years at Sandia we’ve done superfuge tests and combined multiple environments. But we actually only performed these tests on individual components and sub-assemblies, ”explains Paulina Rabczak, an engineer from Sandia’s Californian laboratory who is working on the project.

“We have now successfully designed and built a large, large test facility to aid in testing a full weapon system and getting it through flight-like environments in the superfugue,” she said. “This is possibly the closest we can do to recreating an actual flight re-entry event on the ground.” Albuquerque Superfuge / Centrifuge Complex.

By reproducing a flight environment in a laboratory setting, engineers can achieve test repeatability, further improve the reliability of test data, and mature the hardware, Rabczak said. This is expected to lead to a reduced qualification time and associated costs.

The newly developed test, conducted by the NNSA Office of Engineering and Technology Maturation, provides richer data and better insights, and is a critical step in advancing weapon systems qualification testing, Rabczak said. Qualification tests are used to validate weapon design and system performance.

“Understanding the effects of combined environments on our weapon systems has been invaluable as our engineers develop new designs,” said Matt McDowell, engineer at Sandia’s Superfuge Complex.

Driving data collection

Collecting data from a superfuge test is technically challenging because of the large volume and the presence of multiple swivel joints, McDowell said. Engineers use the data gathered during environmental reviews to inform and improve their designs.

To meet the data acquisition requirements for the combined environmental test of the overall system, engineers developed an onboard data acquisition system that collected data from more than 200 sensors on the test unit.

The data acquisition system developed jointly by the telemetry and systems engineers at Sandia ran together with the test unit, digitized the analog data in the vicinity of the test and encoded the data using established protocols. Engineers were then able to route hundreds of channels of digitized data down the centrifuge arm via a slip ring, a device that enables electrical signals to be transmitted between stationary and rotating structures. The procedure would not have been possible with analog data.

“We want to build on the success we had in that initial test and build on that ability to leverage our other nuclear deterrence programs in the labs,” said McDowell.



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