Researchers Simulate Shock Waves Nuclear Weapons Could Face Using a Blast Tube

Sandia National Laboratories simulate complex blast scenarios with specialized testing.
Jessica Miley

Sandia National Laboratories develop, engineer, and test the non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons. They are one of three National Nuclear Security Administration research and development laboratories. 

In this interesting video from the lab, researchers are using a blast tube to simulate extreme blast and reentry environments. The testing is happening at the Validation and Qualification Experimental Sciences Complex which combines large-scale environmental test facilities with advanced engineering and diagnostics to solve complex national security problems. 

The blast tube testing is part of a two-year project to simulate conditions a nuclear weapon re-entering the Earth's atmosphere could face if another nuclear weapon went off nearby. Wavefront imaging captures the action at 35,000 frames per second and shows blast wave dynamics invisible to the eye. 

Modeler Greg Tipton, who helped design the series, said tests validate the computer models of the structural dynamics of the system. “We can then use the models to simulate real environments we can’t actually test too,” he said. The testing while simple in looks actually takes many years of detailed planning

“Communication and technical excellence is crucial to success,” and there’s only one chance at getting data from the extreme environment of a blast, said John Griffin of Measurement Science and Engineering. “Simplicity in the design, protection of the hardware, redundancy of critical elements and thorough verification of connections are key to ensuring that we get the data in that one opportunity.”