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U.S. taxpayers might cough up for a private company’s new “Small Nuclear” space travel gimmick

Private companies find role in developing nuclear power for space travel, By JoAnna Wendel – contributor 6 Apr 20, 

Nuclear-powered spacecraft could cut our travel time to Mars in half. Space is abouto go nuclear — at least if private companies get their way.

At the 2 t3rd annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference (CST) in Washington, D.C., in January, a panel of nuclear technology experts and leaders in the commercial space industry spoke about developments of the technology that could propel future spacecraft faster and more efficiently than current systems can.

Nuclear technology has powered spacecraft such as NASA’s Mars rovers, the Cassini mission and the two Voyagers that are currently exploring the outer reaches of our solar system. But those fuel sources rely on the passive decay of radioactive plutonium, converting heat from that process into electricity to power the spacecraft.

Instead, the CST panelists discussed Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP), a technology developed in the 1960s and ’70s that relies on the splitting, or fission, of hydrogen atoms. Although fission is associated with more warlike images, the panel’s experts emphasized the safety of nuclear thermal propulsion, which would use low-enriched uranium.

An NTP-powered spacecraft would pump hydrogen propellant through a miniature nuclear reactor core. Inside this reactor core, high energy neutrons would split uranium atoms in fission reactions; those freed neutrons would smack into other atoms and trigger more fission. The heat from these reactions would convert the hydrogen propellent into gas, which would produce thrust when forced through a nozzle.

This chain reaction is the key to NTP’s power, panelist Venessa Clark, CEO of Atomos Space, a company that’s developing thermonuclear propulsion powered spacecraft to provide in-space transportation options to satellite operators, told A soda-can-size fission reactor could propel humans to Mars in just three to four months, she said, about twice as fast as the currently estimated time it could take a chemically propelled ship to carry humans to the Red Planet. …..

But the government still has to play some role, both Clark and Thornburg said. Government agencies like NASA and the military branches may be the first clients for these commercial companies. Clark noted NASA’s recent pushes to partner with the private sector, such as its commercial lunar payload services program and its commercial crew program.

“Government players, NASA and also now the Air Force are looking at procuring services rather than funding the development of technology, which is really exciting for us,” Clark said….

COMMENT.  newtons_laws 06 April 2020 14:47

Quote from article”Instead, the CST panelists discussed Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP), a technology developed in the 1960s and ’70s that relies on the splitting, or fission, of hydrogen atoms” Whoever wrote that needs to learn some basic nuclear physics. In nuclear thermal propulsion the atoms of a fissile heavy element (such as Uranium 235 in the designs mentioned) are split, hydrogen is the simplest and lightest of the elements and cannot be split (hydrogen atoms can however be joined together in the process of nuclear fusion, but that is a different process). Where hydrogen comes in is that in the NTP designs it is the propellant gas that is heated by the nuclear fission reactor to provide propulsion, hydrogen is chosen because being the lightest element it achieves the highest exhaust velocities.



April 7, 2020 - Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA

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