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Russia and the quest for nuclear power in space

Below are extracts from this very thoroughly researched article. The original contains much historical detail, good diagrams and excellent references

Ekipazh: Russia’s top-secret nuclear-powered satellite, The Space Review, by Bart Hendrickx, Monday, October 7, 2019  There is strong evidence from publicly available sources that a Russian company called KB Arsenal is working on a new type of military satellite equipped with a nuclear power source. Called Ekipazh, its mission may well be to perform electronic warfare from space.

KB Arsenal, based in St. Petersburg, is no newcomer to the development of nuclear-powered satellites. In the Soviet days it built satellites known as US-A (standing for “active controllable satellite”), which carried nuclear reactors to power radars used for ocean reconnaissance (in the West they were known as “radar ocean reconnaissance satellites” or RORSAT for short.)  ……………
 evidence emerged in the past few years for the existence of another KB Arsenal project with the odd name Ekipazh (a French loanword meaning both “crew” and “horse-drawn carriage”). The name first surfaced in the 2015 annual report of a company called NPP KP Kvant, which manufactures optical sensors for satellite orientation systems. It revealed that the company had signed a contract with KB Arsenal under project Ekipazh to deliver an Earth sensor (designated 108M) for “transport and energy modules.” According to the 2015 report, test flights of Ekipazh were to be completed in 2021.
Documentation published in recent weeks and months on Russia’s publicly accessible government procurement website zakupki.gov.ru has now confirmed that Ekipazh and TEM are indeed separate efforts. While TEM is a civilian project started jointly by Roscosmos and Rosatom in 2010, Ekipazh officially got underway on August 13, 2014, with a contract signed between KB Arsenal and the Ministry of Defense. It has the military index 14F350, an out-of-sequence number in the 14F satellite designation system, pointing to the satellite’s unusual nature………
While this procurement documentation reveals little about the true nature of Ekipazh and its “transport and energy module,” contractual information that appeared on the procurement website this summer provides conclusive evidence that Ekipazh is a nuclear-powered satellite and leaves little doubt that it uses the Plazma-2010 platform or an outgrowth of it…………

Regulatory issues

Despite the safety risks associated with launching nuclear reactors into space, there are no international rules forbidding nations from doing so. In September 1992, the General Assembly of the United Nations did adopt the so-called “Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space,” but these do not have the same binding force as the UN Outer Space Treaties.

One of the Principles stipulates that nuclear reactors may be operated on interplanetary missions, orbits high enough to allow for a sufficient decay of the fission products, or in low-Earth orbits if they are boosted to sufficiently high orbits after the operational part of the mission. As explained earlier, the latter procedure was followed for the Soviet-era RORSAT missions, but it is highly unlikely that Russia would want to risk repeating the Cosmos 954 experience of 1978. In fact, the very presence of a “transport and energy module” on Ekipazh is a sure sign that it will be placed into an orbit high enough to prevent any harm. Before the nuclear-powered TEM is even activated, a liquid-fuel propulsion system may first boost the satellite to an orbital altitude of at least 800 kilometers, the same procedure that has been described for the one-megawatt TEM. During a recent question-and-answer question with students in St. Petersburg, Roscosmos chief Dmitri Rogozin confirmed that 800 kilometers is the minimum operating altitude for nuclear reactors. Judging from Russian press reports, Rogozin was actually replying to a question about Ekipazh, but seemingly dodged that by talking about the one-megawatt reactor instead.[38]

Another Principle states that launching nations should make a thorough and comprehensive safety assessment and share the results of that with other nations before launch:

The results of this safety assessment, together with, to the extent feasible, an indication of the approximate intended time-frame of the launch, shall be made publicly available prior to each launch and the Secretary-General of the United Nations shall be informed on how States may obtain such results of the safety assessment as soon as possible prior to each launch.

Russia adhered to this rule on the only occasion that it launched nuclear material into space after the adoption of the 1992 Principles. This was on the ill-fated Mars-96 interplanetary mission, which carried two surface penetrators powered by small radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). However, unlike Ekipazh, Mars-96 was an international scientific mission and the presence of the RTGs was widely known. It will be interesting to see how Russia deals with this issue once the top-secret Ekipazh nears launch.

Outlook

It may well be several more years before that launch takes place. Although the initial goal appears to have been to finish test flights by 2021, the available procurement documentation suggests that the first mission is still some time off. Ekipazh may well be experiencing the same kind of delays suffered by many other Russian space projects due to both budgetary issues and Western-imposed sanctions that have complicated the supply of electronic components for space hardware. On top of that, the development of a nuclear-powered satellite is bound to pose some daunting technical challenges that may further contribute to the delays.

One also wonders if the Russians are biting off more than they can chew by simultaneously working on two nuclear electric space tugs (Ekipazh and the one-megawatt TEM). An attempt to streamline this effort seems to have been made by giving KB Arsenal a leading role in both projects in 2014, making it possible to benefit from the company’s earlier experience in the field and infrastructure that it may already have in place to test related hardware. Still, the two projects use fundamentally different nuclear reactors built by different organizations.

The slow progress made in developing the one-megawatt gas-turbine reactor has left many wondering if it will ever fly in space. If Russia plans to use nuclear reactors solely for practical applications in Earth orbit, it may make more sense to abandon the gas-turbine reactor altogether and upgrade the capacity of Krasnaya Zvezda’s thermionic reactors. The company has already done conceptual work on thermionic reactors with a maximum capacity of several hundred kilowatts, even though their operational lifetime would be limited.[39] If this path is chosen, Ekipazh could serve as a testbed for all the nuclear reactors that Russia intends to fly in the near future. However, the country is unlikely to let all the money and effort invested in the one-megawatt TEM go to waste, even if its capabilities may not be needed until well into the 2030s or even later.
Project Ekipazh is discussed in this thread on the NASA Spaceflight Forum, which is updated with new information as it becomes available……. http://www.thespacereview.com/article/3809/1

October 14, 2019 Posted by | Reference, Russia, space travel | Leave a comment

Physics Nobel Laureate predicts NO Migration to Other Planets

Humans will not ‘migrate’ to other planets, Nobel winner says,  https://phys.org/news/2019-10-humans-migrate-planets-nobel-winner.html?fbclid=IwAR2JOS8NV_Z1FWLWspae0m611nKzYdZaHB7DQGvVEYIpDnYqYKgsDnPQCDc  10 Oct 19   Humans will never migrate to a planet outside of Earth’s solar system because it would take far too long to get there, Swiss Nobel laureate Michel Mayor said Wednesday.

Mayor and his colleague Didier Queloz were on Tuesday awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their research refining techniques to detect so-called exoplanets.

“If we are talking about exoplanets, things should be clear: we will not migrate there,” Mayor told AFP near Madrid on the sidelines of a conference when asked about the possibility of humans moving to other planets.

“These planets are much, much too far away. Even in the very optimistic case of a livable planet that is not too far, say a few dozen light years, which is not a lot, it’s in the neighbourhood, the time to go there is considerable,” he added.

“We are talking about hundreds of millions of days using the means we have available today. We must take care of our planet, it is very beautiful and still absolutely liveable.”

The 77-year-old said he felt the need to “kill all the statements that say ‘OK, we will go to a liveable planet if one day life is not possible on earth’.”

“It’s completely crazy,” he added.

Using custom-made instruments at their observatory in southern France, Mayor and Queloz in October 1995 discovered what had previously only existed in the realm of science fiction—a planet outside Earth’s solar system.

Mayor was a professor at Geneva University and Queloz was his doctorate student, when they made the discovery which started a revolution in astronomy. Since then over 4,000 exoplanets have been found in our home galaxy.

“It was a very old question which was debated by philosophers: are there other worlds in the Universe?,” Mayor said.

“We look for planets which are the closest (to us), which could resemble Earth. Together with my colleague we started this search for planets, we showed it was possible to study them.”

Mayor said it was up to the “next generation” to answer the question of whether there is life on other planets.

“We don’t know! The only way to do it is to develop techniques that would allow us to detect life at a distance,” he said.

October 12, 2019 Posted by | 2 WORLD, space travel | Leave a comment

Weapons proliferation risk of nuclear power in space

Push for nuclear power in space sets off proliferation debate, Politico, By JACQUELINE FELDSCHER , 09/27/2019    NASA could place human missions to the moon or Mars in political jeopardy if it opts to use highly-enriched uranium as a power source in space, warns a leading specialist on nuclear proliferation.Astronauts living off of Earth for months at a time will need a reliable energy source for life support and to conduct experiments. But nuclear reactors using highly-enriched uranium, which is used in atomic bombs, will present a host of safety risks and diplomatic obstacles, says Alan Kuperman, the founding coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin.Kuperman is convening stakeholders on the issue next month, including Jeffrey Sheehy, the chief engineer in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), who serves on the committee that oversees NASA. The House-passed fiscal 2020 appropriations bill for NASA includes an amendment from Foster that directs NASA to focus its research on low-enriched uranium reactors.

“There’s a lot of opposition in Congress and in nonprofit groups to any further use of highly-enriched uranium,” Kuperman tells us. “So if NASA wants to use highly-enriched uranium for this space reactor, it might provoke opposition to space reactors in general.

“NASA is introducing political risks to its plan by going this highly-enriched uranium route,” he adds.

The Trump administration ordered NASA in August to craft guidelines for safely using nuclear reactors on Mars or the moon. NASA is also moving ahead with its nuclear power ambitions under it’s Kilopower project to build a highly-enriched uranium reactor that could deliver 10 kilowatts of electrical power continuously for at least 10 years. The space agency launched a study in fiscal 2019 with the Department of Energy to determine how both low and highly-enriched uranium could meet different needs. But the agency “has not made a final decision on highly-enriched uranium versus low-enriched uranium for surface power,” according to NASA spokeswoman Clare Skelly………  https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/27/nuclear-power-nasa-mars-alan-kuperman-q-and-a-1510896

September 28, 2019 Posted by | 2 WORLD, space travel, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Security dangers of nuclear energy in space

Nuclear Energy in Space: Nonproliferation Risks  http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=54634, University of Texas-Austin, September 17, 2019

On October 17, experts from NASA, Congress, and reactor companies will gather in the nation’s capital to discuss ongoing development of nuclear reactors for space missions and the potential security risks.

The event is free, but pre-registration is required.  For further details, and to register, please see: https://space-nuclear.eventbrite.com.

The program will feature Jeffrey A. Sheehy, NASA’s Chief Engineer in the Space Technology Mission Directorate.   The keynote address will be delivered by Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), the only physicist in Congress and a member of the House Science Committee.

Controversy centers on NASA’s choice of fuel for the reactor it tested in 2018 for use on a planetary surface: weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium.  NASA scientists believe such uranium would enable smaller reactors, reducing launch costs.  However, critics argue it could undermine decades of U.S. progress in reducing worldwide civilian commerce in this dangerous material, create a precedent that could help rogue countries obtain nuclear weapons, sharply increase security costs, impede NASA’s cost-saving collaboration with commercial partners who lack licenses for such uranium, and potentially disperse nuclear weapons material to adversaries in the event of a launch failure.  They say that an alternative reactor fuel – low-enriched uranium, which is unsuitable for nuclear weapons – could reduce the security, economic, and political risks.

Last month, President Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum on the launch of space nuclear systems, which highlighted the security risk: “Due to potential national security considerations associated with nuclear nonproliferation . . . The President’s authorization shall be required for Federal Government launches . . . when such systems utilize any nuclear fuel other than low-enriched uranium.”  In June 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill that included an amendment by Rep. Foster, directing NASA to “work towards the development of a low enriched uranium (LEU) space power reactor.”

September 19, 2019 Posted by | safety, space travel, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Ontario’s secretive role in helping Trump to nuclear weaponise Space

The space race has a dirty nuclear secret and it’s right here in Ontario, https://nowtoronto.com/news/space-race-nuclear-power-ontario/  by Rosemary Frei, SEPTEMBER 16, 2019   

Unbeknownst to most Canadians, the Darlington nuclear power plant 70 kilometres east of Toronto has been playing a not-so-small role in the U.S. race to weaponize space

The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission added momentum to the new push to go farther into outer space than humans have ever gone before.

Ontario’s nuclear industry could receive both a reflected glow from the extraterrestrial travel hype and a new revenue stream. It could also potentially increase international nuclear-weapons proliferation.

Unbeknownst to most Canadians, the Darlington nuclear power plant 70 kilometres east of Toronto has already been playing a not-so-small role in the space race.

The plant has been producing radioactive plutonium-238 as fuel for spacecraft in NASA’s mushrooming space pipeline since 2017.

That’s when Ontario Power Generation (OPG) announced excitedly that it would start making plutonium-238 for space exploration. The plant produces about 10 kilograms of plutonium-238 a year.

“We are proud to have Ontario play a part, however small, in this most noble of human endeavours,” OPG’s then-president and CEO Jeff Lyash said in a news release.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), which runs the Chalk River facility near Ottawa, another participant in the initiative, posted a “Success Stories” article on its website seven days later. It cautioned that “this opportunity is still subject to regulatory and licensing processes.” But it quotes a CNL official as saying “staff should take a lot of pride in the fact that we are key partners.”

CNL has continued communicating with other project stakeholders. But when NOW contacted CNL for a comment it responded on September 5 that it is no longer involved in the project. OPG has removed the news release from its website and did not respond to NOW’s request for information. Turns out a company called Technical Solutions Management (TSM) is steering the initiative now.

TSM is owned by former nuclear-industry executives Billy Shipp, Pierre Tremblay and Paul Spekkens. CEO Shipp told NOW in an August 29 phone interview that NASA has yet to give its formal thumbs-up.

“For us to get out ahead of our client [NASA], in terms of anticipated need [for plutonium-238], or making statements of their need, is not that professional on our part. So we really have been very low-key on this,” Shipp says when reached for an interview aboard a boat off Vancouver Island.

But he noted that U.S. President Donald Trump’s establishment of a Space Command makes the project more likely to proceed.

Plutonium-238 has long been used to fuel flight, via conversion into electricity of the intense heat the atom pumps out. The U.S. powered military satellites with it in the 1960s. NASA also harnessed it most recently to propel Curiosity Rover to Mars in 2011.

The steps involved for the manufacture of made-in-Canada plutonium-238 to supplement the U.S.’s production involves first synthesizing neptunium-237, plutonium-238’s precursor at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington.

From there, the material is transported to Chalk River where it is put into bundles before it’s sent to Darlington and inserted into CANDU reactors. There, the neptunium-237 catches stray neutrons, transforming it into plutonium-238. The bundles are shipped back to Chalk River where the plutonium-238 is separated from by-products and packaged into pellets. The pellets are transported to Idaho National Lab where they are readied as ‘nuclear batteries’ for spacecraft engines. The current price of plutonium-238 isn’t public, but back in 2003 one kilogram was worth about $8 million U.S.

Gordon Edwards, co-founder and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, says the form of radioactivity emitted by plutonium (namely, alpha particles) is highly toxic when inhaled but often isn’t picked up by radiation detectors.

For example, in November 2009, hundreds of workers at OPG’s Bruce nuclear plant breathed in plutonium dust (a by-product of nuclear-energy production) but the plutonium remained undetected for weeks. Many of the workers had not been given respirators. It was the largest preventable exposure of workers to internal radioactive contamination in the history of the civilian nuclear industry.

Even worse, says Edwards, is the fact the process used to create plutonium-238 can also be used to transform depleted uranium into plutonium-239, the key explosive in nuclear bombs.

“I grant that TSM’s plutonium-238 program does not fundamentally enhance this danger, but it does provide an opportunity to tell the public and politicians that if you can produce one kind of plutonium for the space program you can just as easily produce another kind of plutonium for a nuclear-weapons program, using essentially the same CANDU technology,” Edwards tells NOW.

However, no one inside the space or nuclear industries appears be seriously addressing these well-known problems. And there is plenty of money potentially available for a new plutonium-238 venture. NASA projects its research and development budget – including developing power and propulsion systems – will be $1.5 billion next year, rising to $3.4 billion by 2024.

TSM’s other co-owners, Tremblay and Spekkens, are well-placed to move such a project forward. Tremblay was OPG’s chief nuclear operating officer and president of OPG’s subsidiary Canadian Nuclear Partners. He became AECOM Canada Nuclear Operations’ president and CEO in August 2018. The American multinational is playing key roles in the multi-billion-dollar Darlington refurbishment. Tremblay started consulting for AECOM in June 2016; an industry article about this said the firm “has recruited key expertise that will undoubtedly position the company to play a key part in the massive nuclear power projects anticipated for Ontario over the next decade.”

Spekkens retired in 2016 as OPG’s vice president of science and technology and as chair of the CANDU Owners Group, a Toronto-based private organization that promotes CANDU use around the world. He then became a consultant and director of nuclear technology at Kinectrics.

He opined on the nuclear industry’s future at a June 2017 conference. In the abstract of his lecture, Spekkens says “this future will, of course, depend heavily on technology. But also (and perhaps equally) important will be non-technical considerations such as public acceptance, a pipeline full of qualified future employees, public policy in several levels of government, and of course, finances.”

@nowtoronto

September 17, 2019 Posted by | Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, space travel, weapons and war | Leave a comment

The danger, the unwisdom, of highly enriched uranium in space

Do we need highly enriched uranium in space (again)?  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists By Christopher Fichtlscherer, September 12, 2019 “……. Weapon-grade fuel for the Mars mission. In this rush to realize the old dream of space colonization, a central question is how to provide a planetary base with electrical power. Currently it seems as though NASA is in favor of nuclear energy. Most recently, on August 20, 2019, President Trump issued a presidential memorandum authorizing the possible launch into space of nuclear reactors fueled by highly enriched uranium (HEU) for “orbital and planetary surface activities.” But sending HEU reactors into space is risky and unnecessary because there are viable options for using low-enriched uranium (LEU), or for avoiding nuclear power altogether by harnessing solar energy.

Since 2015, NASA has funded a group at Los Alamos National Laboratory to build what is called the Kilopower reactor, a nuclear fission reactor for space applications. The Kilopower reactor is a sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactor with a block core that produces electrical energy with Stirling engine heat converters. NASA plans to build four or five Kilopower reactors, each with a lifetime of 12 to 15 years and a continuous energy output of 10 kilowatts, which could meet the energy needs of a possible Mars base. This Kilopower fast reactor could be fueled with either LEU or HEU. While the LEU fuel for the Kilopower reactor would contain 19.75 percent uranium 235, the HEU fuel would contain 93 percent of this isotope, a degree of enrichment that is called “weapon-grade.” In the newest prototype, these two versions of the fast reactor have essentially the same design but differ by size and weight. Los Alamos published a white paper about the Kilopower reactor in August 2017 supporting the LEU designs, but half a year later the lab successfully tested the HEU design. In October 2018, Los Alamos published a second white paper that favored HEU on the grounds that it would have a lighter weight.

Indeed, the HEU version of the Kilopower reactor is lighter, but it comes with alarming risks: the block fuel element contains around 43 kilograms of HEU, enough material for a terrorist group to build a nuclear weapon. There is also a proliferation risk. Kilopower would establish a precedent that other states could use to justify their own production of weapon-grade uranium. That is why, over the last four decades, the United States has led an international effort to persuade research reactor operators to switch from using HEU to using LEU. Building an HEU-fueled space reactor would undermine those attempts and the nonproliferation policies that inform them.

There are other downsides beyond the security risks. For example, the use of HEU would exclude private industry from taking part in space-reactor research and development. Such a reactor would also be more expensive than the LEU version because of the high costs required to secure significant quantities of HEU during the development and the launch. Finally, an HEU reactor would be sure to stir controversy for the reasons mentioned above and would be subject to cancellation by Congress.

Beyond that, the main advantage of the HEU reactor may not actually be much of an advantage. In 2015 scientists from the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, and in 2018 scientists from the Colorado School of Mines, each published designs for different, lighter LEU reactor models with a similar power output to the Kilopower LEU version. Moreover, it seems realistic that we can expect further weight and launching cost reductions well before a Mars colonization mission could start.

Accident risks. Sending nuclear reactors into space is not a new idea. The Soviet Union launched over 30 into orbit during the Cold War to power radars that tracked the US Navy. The United States launched only one reactor, in 1965. Dubbed the SNAP-10A, it had to be shut down after only 43 days due to an electrical component failure.

Most of these reactors are still orbiting above us—but not all of them. For example, the Soviet Kosmos 954 reactor crashed to earth in 1978, spreading radioactive material over a large area of northern Canada. In total there is about one ton of nuclear material in orbit, and all of it is at risk of colliding with other space debris and coming back to earth.

Major accidents have occurred in over 20 percent of space reactor missions. That is probably one of the reasons why no country has launched a reactor into space since the Cold War. Given these issues, why not avoid radioactive material for space missions altogether? Perhaps solar energy should be the first choice for electrical energy in space. Most satellites launched into space get their energy from solar panels, as does the international space station, which has successfully operated for over 10 years with solar arrays that produce up to 120 kilowatts of electricity. The NASA Mars rover Opportunity ran for over 14 years powered by solar panels. In short, the difficulties of running a solar power system on Mars seem manageable.

If we really want to build a Mars base in the not-so-distant future, why should we go with weapon-grade uranium, with all its security and proliferation risks, when we have both the option of affordable alternative LEU designs and solar options that eliminate these risks?  https://thebulletin.org/2019/09/do-we-need-highly-enriched-uranium-in-space-again/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Newsletter09162019&utm_content=NuclearRisk_UraniumInSpace_09122019

September 17, 2019 Posted by | Reference, space travel | Leave a comment

White House new system guidelines for nuclear power in space includes weapons grade materials

White House Overhauls Launch Approval Process for Nuclear Spacecraft, AIP, 23 Aug 19, The White House has announced a new launch authorization process for spacecraft that use nuclear-powered systems, instituting a tiered framework that delegates decision-making for less risky missions and provides explicit guidance on acceptable risk levels……

The memo categorizes missions into three tiers based on the amount and type of nuclear material they contain as well as the estimated probability that a launch accident would result in a certain level of exposure to any member of the public. Unlike the prior policy, it also lays out criteria specific to fission reactor systems and non-federal missions.

The least risky missions fall in Tier 1, where the director of the sponsoring agency can approve the launch. In Tier 2, an interagency review process is triggered, though the sponsoring agency director maintains authority over the launch decision. The memo directs NASA to establish a standing Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Board to perform this function, which formerly was handled by an ad hoc committee empaneled on a mission-by-mission basis.

Spacecraft that use fission reactors automatically fall in at least Tier 2, and the memo requires NASA to identify additional safety guidelines for “safe non-terrestrial operation of nuclear fission reactors, including orbital and planetary surface activities.”

Tier 3 missions require presidential authorization, which for non-defense missions is delegated to the OSTP director, who may opt to forward the decision to the president. Due to nuclear nonproliferation considerations, missions that use highly enriched uranium automatically fall in Tier 3.

The memo also establishes a set of safety guidelines that apply to spacecraft across all tiers. It specifies that the probability a launch accident would result in any individual receiving a total effective dose between 0.025 rem and five rem should be no greater than 1 in 100. The probability for exposures between five rem and 25 rem should not exceed 1 in 10,000, and above 25 rem the probability should not exceed 1 in 100,000. For comparison, the average effective doseindividuals receive from natural background radiation in the U.S. is about 0.3 rem per year, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s dose limit for radiation workers is five rem per year…….

According to a 2015 study, the U.S. has launched 47 nuclear power systems and hundreds of heater units on 31 missions since 1961. The most recent scientific missions to employ an RPS were New Horizons, a Pluto fly-by mission launched in 2006, and the Mars Curiosity Rover, launched in 2011. The follow-on Mars 2020 Rover and the recently selected Dragonfly rotorcraft mission to Saturn’s moon Titan are currently the only two approved NASA spacecraft in development that will use an RPS.

The relatively infrequent use of nuclear systems on spacecraft is in part attributed to the complexity and cost of the safety review process, which generally has limited them to flagship-class missions. Low availability of plutonium for civilian uses has also constrained the mission cadence…….

NASA has recently emphasized the potential value of fission reactors for human deep space exploration missions. At the National Space Council meeting this week, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said nuclear thermal propulsion technologies could significantly reduce transit time to Mars. He also pointed to other potential applications, such as using fission to power a space-based laser that could deflect asteroids and deorbit space debris.

NASA is also exploring how nuclear reactors could meet the power demands of planetary bases. One such concept, called Kilopower, could provide up to 10 kilowatts per reactor using highly enriched uranium. Bridenstine visited members of the Kilopower team this week at NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

The concept is not without critics. Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), a former Fermilab physicist who advocates using alternatives to highly enriched uranium, pressedBridenstine on the subject at a hearing this year.

A future where every space-faring nation has a big inventory of weapons-grade material to service the reactors that they are using all over the Moon and all over Mars is not a very safe space environment,” Foster said. “There will be some small performance compromises in going with low enriched non-weapons grade material, but I really urge you to look hard at keeping alive the prospect of having an international collaboration to develop workable non weapons grade-based materials that the whole world will use.” …….https://www.aip.org/fyi/2019/white-house-overhauls-launch-approval-process-nuclear-spacecraft

August 24, 2019 Posted by | space travel, USA | Leave a comment

Trump signs off on plan to launch nuclear spacecraft

Trump signs off on plan to launch nuclear spacecraft,  New York Post, By Marisa Schultz, August 20, 2019, WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday signed a presidential memorandum outlining new procedures to launch nuclear power systems into outer space.

Trump directed the Department of Transportation to issue public guidelines within a year for commercial companies seeking a license to launch spacecraft with nuclear systems. …..

The federal government and private companies have been eyeing nuclear-powered space exploration and nuclear reactors to fuel missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.

Nuclear propulsion could cut the nine-month trip to Mars in half, the Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday, after the sixth meeting of the National Space Council. Vice President Mike Pence attended the Virginia meeting and touted accomplishments of Trump’s renewed focus on space exploration.

“Our moon-to-Mars mission is on track, and America is leading in human space exploration again,” Pence said. https://nypost.com/2019/08/20/trump-signs-off-on-plan-to-launch-nuclear-spacecraft/

August 22, 2019 Posted by | space travel, USA | Leave a comment

Distinguished scientist Martin Rees – world must fight climate change, don’t waste tax-payers’ money on space travel

Interview:  Martin Rees: ‘Climate change is a doddle compared with terraforming Mars’, Guardian

The astronomer royal and risk specialist on cyber-attacks, pandemics, Brexit and life on Mars, Martin Rees is a cosmologist and astrophysicist who has been the astronomer royal since 1995. He is also a co-founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Cambridge. His most recent book, On the Future: Prospects for Humanity, is published by Princeton.

Martin Rees……. science is not just a venture for academics – most of our life depends on how it’s applied.
…….. One consequence of modern technology is that the world is more interconnected. It’s possible for small groups or even individuals to produce an effect that cascades very widely, even globally.
Ian Tucker..The climate crisis is another area where international agreements have had limited impact. There is a strong grassroots movement led by Greta Thunberg and others, yet we have populist presidents in the US and Brazil who are climate-change deniers and reneging on agreements… 

Martin Rees Politicians don’t prioritise things when the benefits are diffuse and in the far future. They will only take action if the voters are behind them. That’s why it’s very important to sustain these campaigns.

We want to make sure that these issues of climate stay on the agenda. For instance, the 2015 papal encyclical on climate change. The pope has a billion followers from Latin America, Africa, East Asia and this helped towards consensus at the Paris conference……

The need for sending people into space has evaporated. If you were building the Hubble telescope now, you wouldn’t send people to refurbish it, you would send robots. I hope human space flight will continue, but as a high-risk adventure bankrolled by private companies. If I were American, I wouldn’t support taxpayers’ money going on Nasa’s manned programme.  …..

it is a delusion to think we can solve Earth’s problems by relocating to Mars. I completely disagree with Musk and with my late colleague Stephen Hawking on that, because dealing with climate change on Earth is a doddle compared with terraforming Mars. ….https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/18/martin-rees-astronomer-royal-interview-brexit

August 20, 2019 Posted by | 2 WORLD, space travel | Leave a comment

Grand space travel plans – to rescue USA’s collapsing nuclear industry?

US plans to send nuclear reactors to space,  Rt.com 19 Aug, 2019  Despite the nuclear industry stumbling in the domestic United States, the country is looking to put nuclear reactors on Mars and the Moon.

While the nuclear energy industry is struggling to stay afloat in the United States, bogged down by public and political mistrust, crushing nuclear waste-maintenance costs, and a market flooded by cheap natural gas, the country has grand plans for nuclear power outside of its domestic borders. Way outside.

In just a few short years from now, the United States will be shipping nuclear reactors to the moon and Mars. According to team members from the Kilopower project, a collaborative venture from NASA and the United States Department of Energy, nuclear energy is just a few years from heading into the space age.

“The Kilopower project is a near-term technology effort to develop preliminary concepts and technologies that could be used for an affordable fission nuclear power system to enable long-duration stays on planetary surfaces,” says NASA’s “Space Technology Mission Directorate.” In layman’s terms, the focus of the Kilopower project is to use an experimental fission reactor to power crewed outposts on the moon and Mars, allowing researchers and scientists to stay and work for much longer durations of time than is currently possible. …..

[ NASA says] The potential of this demonstration would be to “pave the way for future Kilopower systems that power human outposts on the Moon and Mars, enabling mission operations in harsh environments and missions that rely on In-situ Resource Utilization to produce local propellants and other materials.”

While this is not the first time that nuclear energy is being used to power pursuits into the final frontier, the Kilopower project is a much more ambitious and powerful project than any of its predecessors. According to Space.com, “nuclear energy has been powering spacecraft for decades. NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, New Horizons spacecraft, and Curiosity Mars rover, along with many other robotic explorers, employ radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), which convert the heat thrown off by the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 into electricity.” ….. https://www.rt.com/business/466790-us-space-nuclear-reactors/

August 20, 2019 Posted by | space travel, USA | Leave a comment

Harm to astronauts’ brains from space radiation

Space Radiation Will Damage Mars Astronauts’ Brains, Space.com By Mike Wall 9 Aug 19, Space radiation will take a toll on astronauts’ brains during the long journey to Mars, a new study suggests.

August 10, 2019 Posted by | deaths by radiation, radiation, space travel | Leave a comment

Major problem for astronauts – radiation damages mood and memory?

August 6, 2019 Posted by | 2 WORLD, radiation, space travel | 2 Comments

Jolly propaganda about plutonium fuelling spacecraft

I do love the way that they  trivialise the danger and massive tax-payer expense involved in the production and use of plutonium, for Mars travel etc.

The silly headline about bunnies says it all
Move Over, Energizer Bunny! NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Just Got Its Nuclear Batterym Space.com  By Elizabeth Howell 1 August 19

August 1, 2019 Posted by | space travel, USA | Leave a comment

America’s original moon plan was to explode a nuclear bomb on the moon

Inside Project A119, the secret US plan to detonate a nuclear bomb on the Moon, ABC News, By Antony Funnell for Future Tense   18 July 19, Long before JFK spoke inspiringly of sending humans to the Moon, the American intelligence community was concocting a very different plan.

Landing on the Moon was option B.

Option A was to detonate a nuke on it.

In the late 1950s, Washington set in place a secret operation to examine the feasibility of detonating a thermonuclear device on the surface of our closest celestial neighbour.

It was codenamed Project A119.

Had it gone ahead, the expression “shooting for the Moon” would have gained a whole new meaning.

A spectacular scheme born of desperationWhat might now seem unimaginable only makes sense in the context of the Cold War, historian Vince Houghton says……..

The West was given a shock with the launch of Sputnik and very quickly the US Government flew into action and said we need to do something very spectacular,” Dr Houghton says.

“We need to do something so big that the whole world will know that this was just an anomaly, that Sputnik was just a blip, that the United States was still the big kid on the block.”

And with that, Project A119 was born.

One hell of a mushroom

The idea behind the project was ambitious, but simple — to create an explosion and lunar mushroom cloud so awe-inspiring and unavoidable that no matter where you lived on planet Earth, it would be impossible to ignore the extent of America’s military and technological might.

Appointed to lead the project was a physicist named Leonard Reiffel, who later went on to become the deputy director of the Apollo Program at NASA.

Dr Houghton says when delivering the initial findings in June 1959, cost was among the major reasons why the project was scuttled.

But he says there were also concerns about damaging the lunar landscape.

“There were some scientists who said: ‘You know, we might want to walk up there some day. Maybe we don’t want to blow the hell out of it before we do,'” he says.

“But, again, Sputnik was so terrifying that a lot of people were willing to take that chance.

“A lot of people were willing to say: ‘You know what? The Moon’s big enough that we can nuke it and land on it at the same time, so let’s give this a shot.'”

The big bang that fizzed

Dr Reiffel’s secret report into the feasibility of a lunar detonation was eventually declassified in 2000.

It carried a rather innocuous title: A Study of Lunar Research Flights.

It suggested that detonating a nuclear device on the Moon was technically feasible, but it gave no substantive detail as to how it might be done.

The project never proceeded to operational phase.

Interviewed by The Guardian shortly after the report’s declassification, Dr Reiffel expressed his personal relief.

“I am horrified that such a gesture to sway public opinion was ever considered,” he said.

“Had the project been made public there would have been an outcry.

“I made it clear at the time there would be a huge cost to science of destroying a pristine lunar environment, but the US Air Force were mainly concerned about how the nuclear explosion would play on Earth.”

Dr Houghton says it’s important to view Project A119 in its historical context.

He details the operation in a new book called Nuking the Moon, which examines a whole slate of radical intelligence projects that were set in motion during WWII and the Cold War, but which were never carried out………   https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-17/moon-us-plans-cold-war-russia-sputnik/11220340

July 18, 2019 Posted by | space travel, USA | Leave a comment

Future space travellers will be, in reality, radiation guinea pigs

Space radiation hasn’t contributed to astronaut mortality — yet, study shows

An analysis of all living and dead astronauts and cosmonauts shows that radiation hasn’t contributed meaningfully to their mortality rates. Astronomy, By Korey Haynes , July 5, 2019 “ …………   they found no trend in the deaths suggesting any common cause, meaning radiation didn’t play a major role in the health outcomes of the astronauts and cosmonauts they studied.

Of course, this doesn’t mean humans are in the clear.

“We would expect that at some level of dose there should be adverse health effects,” Reynolds says. “We keep getting the answer ‘no.’ This doesn’t mean radiation isn’t harmful or greater doses wouldn’t be. But so far the doses have been low enough that we don’t see anything.”

That’s probably because the vast majority of space farers so far have spent most or all of their time in Earth orbit, where Earth’s magnetic fields still protect them from the majority of harmful space radiation. Only those 24 astronauts who ventured to the Moon went beyond Earth’s radiation protection, and they stayed for just a few days.

Reynolds says that it’s difficult to draw meaningful results from that tiny sub-sample of people.

By contrast, a Mars mission might last multiple years, and would take place almost entirely beyond Earth’s shielding.

Other researchers are looking at alternative ways of testing the dangers of radiation exposure. But it’s possible that the next round of human space explorers will be guinea pigs, much like the first generation, and only time will tell how radiation has affected them.http://www.astronomy.com/news/2019/07/space-radiation-hasnt-contributed-to-astronaut-mortality–yet-study-shows

July 18, 2019 Posted by | 2 WORLD, radiation, space travel | Leave a comment