National Nuclear Security Administration

Telemetry: gathering information to pass it along

December 20, 2016

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Telemetry is important to NNSA laboratories because it allows researchers to remotely gather information to test weapons in the environments they must be able to withstand, including extreme vibration, shock, heat, and high speed.

Telemetry, derived from the Greek roots tele for “remote” and metron for “measure,” is the process of collecting data from remote locations for monitoring and analysis. Its applications are as varied as the type of information that can be transmitted, from listening to someone’s vitals in the hospital, to on-board measurements during flight tests.

In the medical field, doctors use telemetry to monitor electrical activity of a patient’s heart. Wires on the chest pick up electrical signals from the heart and send them to a telemetry box.

Animal telemetry, or animal biotelemetry, is the science of illuminating the movements and behavior of animals in relation to their environment or habitat. Animal telemetry can provide data about a creature’s environment, behavior, and physiology in real-time. It also can use archival tags to store the data to be physically collected or transmitted later to biologists. Biotelemetry shows a lot of promise for studying climate trends, because animals can be sensitive indicators of environmental and current climactic conditions. U.S. scientists have even proposed a national network for observing wildlife to fill knowledge gaps in their studies.

When it comes to NNSA’s missions, telemetry mainly is used in flight testing. When test or mock-up weapons are flown in routine tests, scientists collect remote measurements of parameters like acceleration and temperature. The on-board data is broadcast from the test object and collected by receivers on the ground. The data is then analyzed to assess the performance characteristics of the system.

Such research is vital to NNSA maintaining the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.