Machine Design
DoD tests nuclear-delivery system

DoD tests nuclear-delivery system

Technicians at Sandia National Laboratory tested a B61-11 ground-penetrating bomb built to deliver a nuclear weapon by dropping it from a hoist onto a concrete target.

High-speed video captured three images of the B61-11 ground-penetrating bomb being driven by a rocket into a concrete target at Sandia Laboratory’s Coyote Canyon test range. The square speckles provide a random pattern used in digital-image correlation algorithms to calculate motion of the rocket in 3D.

All components for the nuclear package had been removed to be studied at another national lab, Los Alamos or Lawrence Livermore. The bomb was also attached to a rocket sled that added thousands of pounds of thrust to its acceleration toward the target. The test took place in conditions meant to replicate the worst-case scenario a B61 is expected to see. This meant the inside and outside of the bomb had to be cooled to far below 0°F. And because the day of the test was rainy, the bomb had to be de-iced twice before the drop.

This is the first test of nuclear-delivery devices since 2008 when Sandia had an accident on its 10,000‑ft rocket-sled track. The team at the lab had been preparing for this test for three years. The weapon was instrumented to record shocks, vibrations, temperatures, and a host of other parameters. After the successful test, the B61 was excavated from the ruins and will be further examined at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo where it was built. Data from the tests is used to update the annual assessment of the U. S. nuclear stockpile.

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