The Orion laser, one of the biggest capital science projects in the UK in the last 25 years, is fundamental to the continued development of nuclear warhead science and essential to the ongoing safety, reliability and certification of the deterrent.
- Orion replaced the HELEN laser which successfully performed experiments for more than 25 years. It will extend the density and temperature space providing materials data and validating the computational models upon which projected weapon performance is based.
- Orion enables our scientists to work at pressures and densities found nowhere else on Earth. Helping to determine the behaviour and characteristics of materials under extreme conditions which allow us to develop and validate theoretical models.
- Orion delivers a unique combination of 10 long-pulse (nanosecond) and two short-pulse (sub-picosecond) beamlines. The short-pulse petawatt beamlines are two of the highest power beams of their type in the world.
- Orion, which is a large neodymium glass laser facility, is designed to study high energy density physics. It will generate matter many times times denser than solid, at temperatures up to 10 million degrees.
- The high temperatures, pressures and compressions achieved during Orion’s ‘shots’ can also aid research in understanding the conditions relevant to inertial fusion energy, planetary and solar physics, high energy particle acceleration and even black holes.
- Orion supports the UK-US relationship in plasma physics research, complementing the larger National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
- Orion’s long and short pulse capability will provide independent control of compression and heating and can be used for systematic studies of various aspects of high energy density plasmas and facilitate development of diagnostic instrumentation.
- Although Orion’s paramount purpose is to support the deterrent programme, the Ministry of Defence has made 15% of Orion’s system time available for cutting-edge collaborative academic research. This research will support current and future AWE programmes. The call and selection of suitable experimental proposals is managed through the Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
See our Orion fact sheet and publications for more information.