Skip to main content

Space Travel and Nuclear Propulsion


I know we talk a lot about electricity generation here at NEI Nuclear Notes, but it's important to remember that there are plenty of other peaceful uses of nuclear technology that deserve some attention. Over at Wired, they're looking at how companies building space probes are beginning to push for new developments in nuclear propulsion.

For more on nuclear propulsion in space travel, click here.

Comments

Ohadi Langis said…
New life for nukes in space

A vision of nuclear propulsion to send humans to the planets is taking shape on the high desert of the Snake River plain in eastern Idaho even though there is no spaceport here. A design from the 1960s to send space payloads to the Moon, Mars, and beyond using a nuclear reactor is being updated with new ideas and technologies. Stephen Howe, Director of the Center for Space Nuclear Research (CNSR), in Idaho Falls, ID, says his design ideas could, if implemented, carry an additional eight tons of payload on a mission to send astronauts to the Moon.

If you are thinking in terms of moving coal or grain along the Mississippi in a river barge, eight tons is a sneeze in the scheme of things. However, in the rocket ship business, where payloads are measured by the pound, and with costs at lift off measured in the tens of thousands of dollars per pound of payload, eight tons is a very big number.

http://djysrv.blogspot.com/2007/07/new-life-for-nukes-in-space.html
robert merkel said…
The point not made clearly in the Wired piece is that a nuclear reactor wouldn't contain anything other than enriched uranium until it was launched and the reactor fired up once the thing had reached orbit. If anything, the environmental risks posed by a space nuclear reactor are less than those from existing RTGs.

Furthermore, chemical rockets are simply inadequate for space travel. Either you need to use energy from somewhere else (which means some form of solar), or a more energy dense fuel, which means nuclear. And solar energy is simply too diffuse in the outer solar system.

If we want to do substantive exploration of our solar system, we'll have to continue to use nuclear energy. It's that simple.
Anonymous said…
here's a good web page on matters related to nuclear power in space:

http://www.nuclearspace.com/

Popular posts from this blog

Knowing What You’ve Got Before It’s Gone in Nuclear Energy

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Nuclear energy is by far the largest source of carbon prevention in the United States, but this is a rough time to be in the business of selling electricity due to cheap natural gas and a flood of subsidized renewable energy. Some nuclear plants have closed prematurely, and others likely will follow.
In recent weeks, Exelon and the Omaha Public Power District said that they might close the Clinton, Quad Cities and Fort Calhoun nuclear reactors. As Joni Mitchell’s famous song says, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
More than 100 energy and policy experts will gather in a U.S. Senate meeting room on May 19 to talk about how to improve the viability of existing nuclear plants. The event will be webcast, and a link will be available here.
Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants get no specia…

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…