You don’t always know what’s in the trailers that pass you on the road. Some are obvious, with Target, Walmart or some other big chain’s sticker slapped on the side. But many of the trailers are unmarked, noting simply the DOT number and maybe a “Caution Wide Turns” sticker.
I’m sure very few of you think that any of those trailers are carrying something a little more dangerous that frozen food or new bedding…like, maybe, a nuclear weapon. But this isn’t an ordinary trailer; this is a trailer specifically made to not only carry this type of payload, but protect it at all costs.
Enter the Mobile Guardian Transporter — a prototype over-the-road trailer that was tested at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this past summer. This test was performed for the National Nuclear Security Administration as part of the Sandia’s nuclear deterrence program. These new trailers will eventually replace the current fleet of vehicles that safely and securely move nuclear assets throughout the U.S.
“Making sure we conduct transportation safely and securely is a critical part of effective nuclear deterrence. It’s not an extra; it’s an essential part of the program,” says Jim Redmond, Sandia’s senior manager over the Mobile Guardian Transporter program.
The planning for the Mobile Guardian Transporter began in 2015 and it started with a clean sheet of paper, with the Sandia team starting from scratch to revamp the last version of the transporter, which has been in use since the 1990s.
After about five years of planning, the Sandia team was ready for the test. But this was not just a simple crash test, though it was over in about 10 seconds, according to Redmond.
“It takes lots of preparation to set up a test like this. After years of prototype development and test article instrumentation, there was still a lot of work to do at the test site leading up to the test,” says Redmond, explaining that they had to run cables, set up cameras, check the acquisition systems, and set triggers. “There was a tremendous amount at stake because once the rockets fire, there’s no turning back and everything has to work perfectly.”
The actual test consisted of placing the Mobile Guardian Transporter across the Sandia National Laboratories’ sled track, while rockets propelled a tractor-trailer at highway speeds into the side of the prototype.
Since the last time these types of trailers were tested in the ‘90s, a few things have changed on the testing side as well. Redmond and his team were able to use a number of inexpensive, high-definition/high-frame-rate cameras during the test, while also taking advantage of all the advances in computing speed and data storage that we’ve seen in the last 20 years.
“The combination of these advances enabled us to have much higher resolution measurements in time and space that we will use during the qualification phase of the Mobile Guardian Transporter program,” says Redmond.
More than 400 channels of data and video were collected by the Sandia team, with every sensor serving a specific purpose and providing data that will be analyzed to ensure the new transporter meets the laundry list of requirements. Only three prototypes will be built, so every little bit of data is important.
So, the next time you’re powering down the highway and see an unmarked trailer saddling up next to you, don’t stress — this intense cargo is prepared for the worst case scenario.