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Orion laser facility

Orion is one of the most powerful lasers and largest laser facilities in the UK.

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A unique national asset

We have unique nuclear expertise. We have a clear purpose and goals that set our direction.

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World-class expertise

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Hydrodynamics

Hydrodynamics is an important area of study because when materials are explosively compressed they undergo extreme conditions causing them to behave more like liquids, as you would see in a warhead. The literal meaning of hydrodynamics is ‘water motion’ – the science of forces acting on or exerted by fluids.

Hydrodynamic experiments represent the most comprehensive test of our integrated capabilities and provide the Ministry of Defence with confidence in the UK's nuclear deterrent. We have a number of world-class facilities dedicated to hydrodynamics research.

We undertake two approaches in order to obtain hydrodynamic data:

  • Firstly, complex integrated experiments are carried out on devices as closely resembling an actual warhead as practically possible;
  • Secondly, simplified focussed experiments are carried out to gain a more fundamental understanding of individual aspects of hydrodynamics.

We perform a range of  integrated warhead related experiments that are vital in underwriting computational models, especially important as the UK is a signatory to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which bans any actual testing. Any modifications to the UK’s weapon systems (e.g. due to changes in the materials) or the development of potential new designs will typically have one or more hydrodynamic experiments, or ‘Hydrotrials’, to aid in their certification.

A significant number of the simplified experiments do not actually involve using explosives but instead make use of technologies such as shock tubes, gas guns and pulsed power to generate the shock regimes of interest. The capabilities to do these types of experiments are located both at AWE and partner institutions such as the Institute of Shock Physics at Imperial College London.