Securing the US Nuclear Detection System

Sandia National Laboratories GBD III 1-8 Team Members celebrated the final production delivery of III 1-8 Blk. P, a space-based nuclear explosion sensor. This sensor is a vital capacity for the US to monitor compliance with treaties such as the Limited Test Ban Treaty and the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, as well as to support the nuclear war mission. The National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) has been providing this space-based detection capability to the US Government for more than 50 years.

Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory, both with highly skilled workforces, leverage their unique knowledge of nuclear weapon design and phenomenology to develop, integrate and test sensor payloads for the NNSA. This work includes close collaboration with government stakeholders, host satellite owners, satellite industry contractors, and the US Air Force operators to ensure these systems accomplish the mission. The most recently implemented systems are the Global Burst Detector (GBD) payloads on GPS satellites and the second payload of the Space and Atmospheric Gust Reporting System (SABRS) in a US satellite. In addition to the next SABRS payload, STPSat-6 will also host an experimental NNSA payload called SENSER. This payload will reduce development risk for future nuclear explosion detection sensors by testing and evaluating critical technologies in the space environment prior to production and integration into the next generation of systems. This long-term planning, combined with ongoing close collaboration between stakeholders and mission partners, is critical to ensuring that vital nuclear detonation detection capability is continuously ready to secure US compliance with DoD requirements to detect, identify, locate, characterize and report nuclear detonations in the Earth's atmosphere and in space. The National Office of Nuclear Detection (DNDO) is a co-staffed office within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction.

DNDO is responsible for implementing national nuclear detection efforts for a controlled and coordinated response to radiological and nuclear threats, as well as integrating federal nuclear forensic analysis programs. In addition, DNDO is responsible for coordinating the development of the global nuclear detection and reporting architecture, with partners from federal, state, local and international governments and the private sector. The mission of DNDO is to prevent nuclear terrorism by continuously improving capabilities to deter, detect, respond and attribute attacks, in coordination with national and international partners. The director of DNDO is William J. McDonnell.

The DNDO is organized to address key mission areas and meet functional objectives outlined in its founding Presidential Directive. It is urgent that decisions regarding future capabilities of nuclear detonation detection satellites be reviewed now. The maintenance of these technical capabilities will require action from NNSA with support from others on a solid scientific and engineering basis maintained through a continuous dynamic of experiments linked to analysis, a vigorous surveillance program, an adequate proportion of margins of performance in the face of uncertainties. This report also emphasizes the use of modernized production facilities and a competent and capable workforce with a broad base of nuclear safety expertise. An appendix includes information illustrating concerns described in Chapter 2 of the unclassified text with respect to future US satellite nuclear detonation detection monitoring capabilities, in particular potential capabilities in various future satellite scenarios. Similarly, it remains uncertain exactly what nuclear detonation detection capability will be implemented on future Block III GPS satellites. This long-term planning combined with ongoing close collaboration between mission stakeholders and partners is critical to ensuring that vital nuclear detonation detection capability is continuously ready to secure US compliance with DoD requirements.

The Air Force launched the first of 12 Vela satellites to detect aerial nuclear tests in the atmosphere or in space.

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