Correction: the story has been updated to clarify the nature of the rockets and sensors used in these tests.
The history of rocketry is a history of iterative mistakes.
Explosive propulsion carries with it all the hazard contained in the phrase, and error can come from any point of design, assembly, and launch, all cascading in a bright flash or a dull thud. Engineers left to piece over the remains to decipher what went wrong.
Sandia Labs, the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based nuclear and defense research apparatus, announced Aug. 30, it had completed a series of successful test of a mathematical method for determining vibrations between sensors to see how sensitive, experimental payloads handle the vibrations of flight.
It is, in other words, a way to move fast without breaking things.
The tests took place on so called HOT SHOT sounding rockets, with HOT SHOT being a rough backronym from “High Operational Tempo Sounding Rocket Program.” The sounding rockets are fired from Sandia Labs’ Kauai Test Facility in Hawaii and contained “scientific experiments and prototypes of missile technology.” The purpose was to see if components like onboard computers or structural brackets can “function in the intense turbulence, heat and vibration a missile experiences in flight.”
By outfitting the sounding rockets with what the Lab describes as pea-sized instruments to measure vibration, Sandia estimates it can potentially trim a year off the testing timeline for the experimental components inside the refurbished rockets that serve as a testing platform.
To test the applicability of readings from vibration sensors, researchers at Sandia launched a rocket with vibration sensors, and then tested to see if, using data from only a few vibration sensors, they could infer the data from the remaining vibration sensors.
Further tests are needed to see if the vibration sensors will routinely be as successful collecting information as initially promised. Sandia launched two rockets at Kauai August 28, and for those tests will have ground microphone data to cross-reference as another source of vibration data. In two subsequent tests on August 28, Sandia used ground microphones as another source of data to cross-reference with the vibration data to confirm their findings.
If all goes well, the Lab will be able to continue iterating design for “prototype nuclear deterrence technologies,” at a higher tempo than it was previously. When it comes to iterating the technology of deterrence, Sandia is, forever, undeterred.