NNSA Assisted in Shooting Down of Satellite in February

Press Release
Sep 30, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) Red Storm supercomputer, located at its Sandia National Laboratories, helped the U.S. Navy shoot down an errant satellite in February 2008.  NNSA's role had been classified until this week.

"Our team did a great job in providing the simulation data necessary to complete this important mission," said NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino.  "This is a great example of the ways that the nation's investment in nuclear deterrence can be more broadly employed for national security."

NNSA's Red Storm supercomputer is used to help certify the reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without underground nuclear testing.  For about two months, NNSA diverted Red Storm and its technical experts and codes to this secret project to simulate, assess and plan the complex mission of shooting down an errant satellite.  All 26,569 processors were used on Red Storm to perform complex simulations that allowed NNSA's technical experts to predict various details and possibilities.

The work done at Sandia National Laboratories helped answer many questions, such as at what altitude to hit the satellite, how to hit it to minimize the spread of debris, including its hazardous fuel, and the best way to make sure that the satellite was destroyed with a single shot.  This information contributed to the presidential decision to proceed, and helped the Department of Defense plan and execute the shoot down, as well as conduct analysis after the fact.

The satellite in question failed shortly after its launch in 2006.  It was reentering the earth's atmosphere and posed a potential safety hazard due to the frozen hydrazine propellant that was on board.  The U.S. Navy successfully shot down the satellite late on February 20, 2008.

In June of 2008, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman approved NNSA's new direction for its national security laboratories and the test site.  This new direction describes a future mission for the laboratories that is not limited solely to the historic nuclear weapons core mission, but also encompasses the full spectrum of national security interests.  The broad range of research and development activities at the NNSA laboratories will continue to ensure that the nation is equipped to anticipate new national security threats and deal with technological surprises.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a separately organized agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and abroad.

Media contact(s):
NNSA Public Affairs (202) 586-7371