Characterizing the handling safety and sensitivity of explosives has been a challenging area of study for over 60 years. Historically one of the most accessible and widely utilized experiments has been the drop-weight impact test, which involves dropping a weight on a small sample sandwiched between two anvils. Because this experiment generally only utilizes sound thresholds to determine whether or not a sample reacted, it is not possible to resolve whether ignition is propagating throughout the material or quenching. In order to give the chemistry and engineering communities a high-throughput tool to measure and predict the handling sensitivity of explosives, we are developing an advanced drop tower instrument capable of imaging energetic material deformation during impact and the resulting thermal ignition and propagation events. The instrument will combine a gravity drop tower module with a diagnostic imaging impact chamber to enable high-speed visible and thermal imaging of explosive initiation by sub-shock impact at varying heights. Herein, we present key design features for this instrument, including a precision positioning mechanism to vary height (impact energy), a precision guidance mechanism to ensure repeatable impact conditions, and a high-speed visible and thermal imaging apparatus for data acquisition. In order to better interpret explosive heating and ignition behavior during the drop-weight impact test, we have modeled material behavior during impact using a cyclotrimethylene trinitramine (RDX) sample discretized into Eulerian finite elements under plane strain conditions. The striker and anvil are not modeled explicitly, but their interaction with the sample is accounted for by specifying appropriate boundary conditions. The localization of deformation and temperature in the sample is shown, and compared between polycrystalline and single crystal RDX results.