Friday, September 21, 2007

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.

3 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/