NNSA Blog

Sandia monitors nuclear safety of mission to Mars

A team of Sandia engineers has worked behind the scenes to ensure the smooth launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

NASA's $2.5 billion MSL rover, the largest and most sophisticated vehicle to visit Mars, is powered by a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or MMRTG. The generator uses heat from the decay of 10.6 pounds of plutonium dioxide into 110 watts of electricity to move the rover and run a suite of 10 instruments, which can do things like find water 32 feet below the surface and analyze chemical composition of rocks three car-lengths away.

While the MMRTG significantly increases the rover's range and lifetime from previous rovers, which relied on solar panels, launching nuclear material requires diligent attention to safety, and Sandia has been tasked with conducting the safety analysis report.

Read more about Sandia's work with monitoring the mission in Sandia's Lab News (scroll down to third story).

Aug 7, 2012 at 12:00 am

Eye of ChemCamLos Alamos National Laboratory technology has landed on the surface of Mars. Sunday’s successful landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars marks the beginning of a nearly two-year-long mission that will use a rock-zapping laser device mounted on the mast of the SUV-sized rover to help unravel mysteries of the Red Planet.

The ChemCam laser characterization instrument, developed at LANL and the French space institute, IRAP, is one of 10 instruments mounted on the MSL mission’s Curiosity rover — a six-wheeled mobile laboratory that will roam more than 12 miles of the planet’s surface during the course of one Martian year (98 Earth weeks).

When ChemCam fires its extremely powerful laser pulse, it briefly focuses the energy of a million light bulbs onto an area the size of a pinhead. The laser blast vaporizes part of its target up to seven meters (23 feet) away. The resultant flash of glowing plasma is viewed by the system’s 4.3-inch aperture telescope, which records the colors of light within the flash. These spectral colors are then interpreted by a spectrometer, enabling scientists to determine the elemental composition of the vaporized material. ChemCam also has a high-resolution camera that provides close-up images of an analyzed location. It can image a human hair from seven feet away.

Curiosity is expected to investigate the Gale Crater located close to the equator near the boundary between the southern highlands and the more featureless northern low plains of Mars. The massive crater spans 96 miles in diameter, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. A towering mountain, informally named Mount Sharp, rises up nearly three miles above the crater floor. This mammoth feature will provide opportunities for ChemCam to sample geologic layers on the mountainside.

Probing this stratified geology with ChemCam could help researchers understand how the Red Planet transformed over time into a drier, less hospitable climate.

With a mass of nearly a ton, Curiosity is the largest rover ever deployed to another planet. Previously, NASA sent a pair of much smaller rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to Mars in January 2004. Both rovers gathered a wide range of rock and soil data that have helped provide important information about the wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable to supporting microbial life.

For more information about ChemCam, please visit its website: http://www.msl-chemcam.com

Aug 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Scientists from the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency meet with NNSA colleagues

Scientists from the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) met with colleagues from NNSA to work on on-going aerial and ground monitoring efforts following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011.

A key element of the meeting was the discussion of detailed analysis techniques which could be applied to the data collected in Japan by the NNSA response teams during the first month following the earthquake and tsunami. The purpose of the analyses is to obtain a better understanding of the radiological conditions during the early response period. The results from these analyses can aid in efforts to model the doses that may have been incurred during the incident. The meeting was held at the NNSA Nevada Site Office in Las Vegas, Nev. In attendance were scientific experts from the  NNSA Consequence Management and Aerial Measuring System programs. The NNSA maintains the Aerial Measuring System (AMS) capability to respond to radiological and nuclear incidents in the U.S. The AMS uses specialized radiation detection systems mounted in aircraft to provide real-time measurements of ground contamination. These trained experts are in charge of maintaining a state of readiness to respond to a radiological emergency at any time. The teams are based out of Las Vegas, Nev., Washington, D.C., and Aiken, S.C.

Aug 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Daniel B. Poneman, Deputy Secretary of Energy, today honored the five individuals from NNSA’s national laboratories who have been named recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards (PECASE) for Scientists and Engineers. Poneman presented each recipient with a plaque and praised each recipient for receiving the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

The five PECASE recipients are Jeffrey W. Banks and Heather Whitley, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Amy J. Clarke, Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Stanley Atcitty and Daniel B. Sinars, Sandia National Laboratories.

President Obama yesterday honored the recipients at the White House.

Read more about the awards.

Aug 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm

An event featuring live music, a dunk tank and a barbeque was held yesterday as part of the 2012 Feds Feed Families campaign. The DOE-wide goal for this year is to collect 230,000 pounds of non-perishable food items, which will be donated to local food banks for direct distribution to those in need in the D.C. area. NNSA will host a variety of activities in August to help achieve the goal.

Jul 31, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Joel Ramos works with the lathe.

Big jobs are nothing new for the Projects Division at Pantex, and the award-winning installation of a new high explosives (HE) vertical turret lathe definitely qualifies as a big job, starting with the 10-ton weight of the machine itself.

Throw in the multi-ton blast wall that had to be craned out of the way, installation of all-new utilities and a greatly compressed timeline, and it becomes clear why completing the project on time and under budget earned a Project of the Year Award from the Amarillo chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI).

“There were things about this project that were tough, but it was a good project,” said Marvin Moreland, project manager. “Everybody knew it had to be done right and on time, so everybody pitched in to make it happen. It was a real team effort.”

Moreland and his 14-person-team joined with a crew of experts to bring in the $2.1 million project 50 days ahead of schedule and $145,000 under budget – a significant accomplishment given the critical need to install the project to meet increased production goals.

“They saved the day for us,” said Greg Lehnick, logistics section manager for HE Manufacturing. “There were a lot of obstacles to doing something like this, but they got it done, and that allowed us to meet the customer’s expectations.”

The massive lathe is nearly identical to several others in use at Pantex, but this particular piece of equipment had not been manufactured since the 1980s, when the other lathes were installed and the building was constructed around them. Getting a lathe into an existing bay required a 25-ton-crane, removal of a blast wall and a team of about a dozen lifting experts. Once the lathe was in the bay, all of the utilities and fire suppression systems had to be modernized.

The lathes are used to machine HE parts for use in weapon life extension programs at Pantex. The lathe’s massive size belies its sophistication, which allows it to machine parts to tolerances down to a thousandth of an inch. The entire process is so sensitive that the ambient temperature must be controlled to within a couple of degrees lest thermal expansion throw off the accuracy.

Moreland and his team members submitted their project to the newly-formed chapter of PMI in Amarillo, which chose it as Project of the Year. The real reward, however, comes in allowing Pantex to meet its production goals and accomplish its critical national security mission.

“Marvin and his team deserve congratulations for the hard work they put in to make this happen,” said Dennis Huddleston, manager of the Projects Division at Pantex. “Their success demonstrates the dedication all Pantexans have to getting the job done right.”

About the photos:

Joel Ramos, an engineering technician at Pantex, works with the lathe. The lathe is used to machine high explosives parts for use in weapon life extension programs at Pantex.

Jul 31, 2012 at 11:00 am

NNSA field office managers from across the enterprise gathered in Kansas City last week for a federal field leadership team meeting. During the trip, they toured the new Kansas City Plant, which is more than 80 percent complete. Beginning in January 2013, KCP will begin the move from the Bannister Federal Complex to the new National Security Campus.

About the photo:

From left to right: John Woolery, President and General Manager B&W Pantex; Geoffrey Beausoleil, Sandia Field Office Manager; Steven Erhart, Nuclear Security Production Office Manager; Stephen Mellington, Nevada Field Office Manager; Bill Jackson, meeting coordinator; Rick Lavelock, Kansas City Plant, Transformation Leader; Mark Holecek, Kansas City Field Office Manager; Michael Lemke, Associate Principal Deputy Administrator and Associate Administrator for Infrastructure and Operations; Douglas Dearolph, Savannah River Field Office Manager; Kimberly Davis, Livermore Field Office Manager; Kevin Smith, Los Alamos Field Office Manager; and Dana Hunter, NNSA’s Field Office Liaison.

NNSA field office managers meet at Kansas City Plant

Jul 30, 2012 at 11:00 am

Representatives from NNSA's Sandia Site Office recently hosted the NNSA summer interns from the Albuquerque Complex and the Sandia Site Office on a tour of Sandia National Laboratories. The interns toured Sandia's Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) facility and the Annular Core Research Reactor.

About the photos:

(Group photo) Anthony Torres, Michael Pitonzo, Nicholas Shaneyfelt, Matthew ‘David’ Conklin, Jennifer Slopek, Turner Adair, Dominique Rodriguez, Ashley Dyke, Richard Baca (NNSA Mentor for 2012 NNSA Intern Program), and Jordan Flynn.

NNSA Sandia Site Office Facility Representative Erwin Hoo hosts the NNSA Summer Interns on a tour of Sandia's Annular Core Research Reactor.

NNSA summer interns tour Sandia

Summer Interns on a tour of Sandia's Annular Core Research Reactor

Jul 30, 2012 at 10:00 am

NNSA Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship (SSGF) annual fellows’ conference

The NNSA Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship (SSGF) annual fellows’ conference this week brought together its fellows, alumni, academic advisors and DOE laboratory and headquarters staff. Participants gathered to learn about current research in the areas of high energy density physics, nuclear science and materials under extreme conditions and hydrodynamics.

Now in its seventh year, five new fellows were recently welcomed into the program and participated in the annual conference. Each fellow is afforded the unique opportunity to complete a three-month practicum at one of the DOE's national defense laboratories. During the practicum experience, fellows are able to use some of the nation's largest and most sophisticated experimental and computational facilities to conduct their research.

Funded by NNSA and founded in 2006, the SSGF program is administered by the Krell Institute. The SSGF recognizes an ever-increasing demand for highly trained scientists in fields within science and engineering that are critical to stewardship science.

Read more about the conference.

About the photo:
Jennifer Shusterman, nuclear chemistry Ph.D. candidate at University of California, Berkeley, answers questions about her research.

Jul 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Five individuals from NNSA’s national laboratories have been named recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Among the 96 recipients announced by President Obama are: Jeffrey W. Banks and Heather Whitley, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Amy J. Clarke, Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Stanley Atcitty and Daniel B. Sinars, Sandia National Laboratories.

The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers embody the high priority the Obama Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the Nation’s goals, tackle grand challenges and contribute to the American economy.

Read more about the awards.

Jul 25, 2012 at 10:00 am