Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory



Senior mechanical engineer Kurt Boehm participates in the installation and initial checkout of a new shimless and integrated shroud assembly on an ignition target inserter and cryostat (ITIC) in the NIF cryogenic target positioner. The new design reduced shroud installation and alignment time by half.

Because NIF is a one-of-a-kind facility, it offers opportunities for research that were impossible until recently and are still unavailable anywhere else. And while its primary mission has always been to further stockpile stewardship for national security, NIF’s unparalleled capabilities also make it extremely useful for researchers worldwide.

“A long line of scientists are eager to conduct their experiments on NIF,” said NIF Director Mark Herrmann, “and we have a responsibility to make every minute of shot time count, to maximize return on the taxpayers’ investment.”

Innovative efficiency improvements that have dramatically increased the number of NIF’s annual experiments are a signature achievement of the facility. The NIF Team undertook an aggressive effort to boost the shot rate from 2014 to 2016, doubling NIF’s capacity to carry out groundbreaking science on the facility. NIF now fires about 400 shots per year, enabling stockpile stewardship research to advance more quickly and enhancing NIF’s value as the preeminent facility for inertial confinement fusion (ICF) and high energy density (HED) research, national security applications, and Discovery Science experiments.

“We’re pulling out all the stops to increase the value of the facility for our sponsors and to better support stockpile stewardship.”

—NIF Facility Manager Doug Larson

“This increase in available shot time at a constant level of funding is a testament to the creativity and hard work of the entire NIF Team in finding ways to streamline the process,” Herrmann said. “The effort involved every part of the system, from laser shots, to optics, to targets, to diagnostics—all contributing to creating more opportunities to support NIF’s missions.”

NIF began operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week in October 2010. Early improvements in the shot-to-shot cycle time increased the number of cryogenic (frozen-fuel) target shots, from an average of 6.6 shots per month in mid-2011 to an average of ten cryogenic shots per month by January 2012.

In 2014, the Laboratory—responding to a Congressional appropriations bill requirement—completed a major study by a team of more than 80 NIF collaborators and sponsors involved in HED research. The study made organizational, engineering, scheduling, and experimental configuration recommendations that were implemented in the following months and years, substantially streamlining the turnaround time between experiments.

Graph Showing NIF Shot Increase by Year
NIF shot increases by fiscal year (click to enlarge).

NIF completed 300 shots in fiscal year (FY) 2015, reached 400 shots in FY 2016—roughly double the number in FY 2013—and has maintained that level of productivity in the succeeding years. NIF fired its 2,000th overall shot in September 2017 and is on track to reach 3,000 shots early next year.

Some examples of efficiency improvements:

  • Organizing experiments into “mini-campaigns”—sets of experiments designed to be fired in a similar configuration to minimize facility changes while optimizing data return.
  • Separating “shot mode” from “maintenance mode” so that NIF can shoot around the clock for five straight days each week, followed by 48 hours of maintenance.
  • Developing an Advanced Tracking Laser Alignment System, or ATLAS, to streamline the alignment of NIF’s laser beams, targets, and diagnostics in the center of the Target Chamber.
  • Installing two new target and diagnostic manipulators, known as TanDMs, that provide flexibility in NIF shot operations by focusing on room-temperature experiments; this frees up the facility’s other target positioners for more integrated experiments with cryogenic fuel layers.
Workers Prepare TanDM for a ShotTarget Area operators prepare a target and diagnostic manipulator (TanDM) for a NIF shot. The 9,000-kilogram (20,000-pound) mechanism is about 8.5 meters long, with a boom that can extend about 6.75 meters. Credit: Jason Laurea

More Information

“Keeping NIF’s Symphony of Controls in Tune,” NIF & Photon Science News, February 12, 2020

“NIF Hits 10,000 Optics Recycle Milestone,” NIF & Photon Science News, January 9, 2020

“LLNL’s Virtual Beam Line ++ Now Available to Users,” NIF & Photon Science News, April 3, 2019

“Virtual and Augmented Reality Yield New Insights,” Science & Technology Review, December, 2018

“NIF-Specific Radiological Training Boosts Efficiency,” NIF & Photon Science News, July, 2018

“Streamlining the Lifecycle of NIF Experiments,” NIF & Photon Science News, January, 2018

“Automation Speeds and Smooths NIF’s Optics Recycle Loop,” NIF & Photon Science News, October, 2017

“An Increased Shot Rate at the National Ignition Facility,” Science & Technology Review, March, 2015

“Operational Improvements Boost NIF’s Productivity,” NIF & Photon Science News, October, 2014

Next Up: A Legacy of Lasers