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Nuclear rockets anyone? April 19, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
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Solid core nuclear reactor.

Image Credit: IAA

I have been doing a lot of research on propulsion for spacecraft lately and I came across a paper titled Nuclear Space Power and Propulsion  by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA). At 224 pages, which contain a lot of math that will make your skull shrink, it is comprehensive.  It is not a casual look at the technology, rather it is a serious attempt to quantify the design challenges, risks and development necessary if this technology is to be used in space. You come away wondering if there isn’t a better way, but the paper makes some excellent observations about the trade offs of going nuclear.

It is hard to imagine in the aftermath of the Fukushima mess that the general public would stand for anything nuclear and large launching into space. Still the distances between planets is such that conventional chemical rockets are cumbersome for extended trips, not to mention the huge side affects of long periods of zero g, which nuclear propulsion promises to reduce. It seems if there was a way around terrestrial sourcing of the fuel were possible a lot of the concerns would be diminished. Asteroid mining anyone?