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National Ignition Facility

Creating a Miniature Star on Earth

High-Speed Real-Time CORBA Software Runs National Ignition Facility Lasers

National Ignition Facility

Scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) are solving one of the world's most challenging distributed systems control problems using ORBexpress®. The NIF's Integrated Computer Control System (ICCS) must integrate more than 60,000 control points to manage 192 laser beamlines that deliver 2 MegaJoule pulses of optical energy onto a BB-sized fusion fuel capsule in a pulse 25 nanoseconds long. The result is an energy-producing inertial confinement fusion reaction similar to the ignition of a small sun.

The NIF uses the world's most powerful laser, a 500 trillion-watt laser which requires a space larger than a football stadium.

To achieve this incredible result, the ICCS uses ORBexpress for communication among more than 180,000 CORBA objects in 1,500 processes across 1,000 computers. This vast network encompasses multiple server, workstation and embedded operating systems, different processors and several programming languages.

National Ignition Facility Servers

NIF's 192 giant lasers, housed in a ten-story building the size of three football fields, deliver at least 60 times more energy than any previous laser system. NIF's lasers converge on a tiny target contained in a small gold cylinder the size of a pencil eraser, generating the extraordinary temperatures and pressures that only exist in the cores of stars and giant planets, and inside exploding nuclear weapons.

The National Ignition Facility will allow scientists to study basic physics and the high energy density regimes that will yield new insights into the origins of our universe. It will also maintain the safety, reliability and effectiveness of our nation's nuclear weapons stockpile — without the need for underground testing — and explore harnessing the clean, limitless potential of fusion energy. The ultimate mission of the National Ignition Facility will be to conduct fusion experiments for the benefit of mankind.

Scientists have been working to achieve self-sustaining nuclear fusion and energy gain in the laboratory for more than half a century. Now that the NIF is completed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), that long-sought goal is closer to realization.

The target positioner and target alignment system precisely locate a target in the NIF target chamber. The target is positioned with an accuracy of less than the thickness of a human hair.

"ICCS must be highly automated and robust, and must operate continuously around the clock," says John Woodruff, Livermore's Lead Architect for Supervisory Software. The control system is being built with Ada 95 on a "modern object-oriented software framework that will be extensible and maintainable throughout the facility's life cycle." ICCS computer scientist Robert Carey cites particular features of ORBexpress's most recent release. "Its reference domain concept allows us to isolate and use multiple versions of application software or operating systems. And it is visibly speedier than earlier versions, which is important in applications involving huge amounts of data. We find that the performance is sufficient to meet our most demanding requirements." Within the ORBexpress environment, NIF programmers can develop code that is "reusable across multiple platforms, applications, and indeed other projects," says Woodruff.

About Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a premier applied-science national security laboratory operated by the University of California under contract to the Department of Energy. One of its primary missions is to ensure that the nation's nuclear weapons remain safe, secure, and reliable and to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons worldwide. This mission uses LLNL's programs in advanced defense technologies, lasers, energy, environment, biosciences, and basic science to apply the Lab's unique capabilities, and to enhance the competencies needed for its national security mission. The Laboratory serves as a resource to U.S. government and a partner with industry and academia.