from the urls-we-dig-up dept
Nuclear energy usually has a significant NIMBY problem (Not In My Back Yard!) that prevents nuclear power plants from being constructed. There’s no simple solution to this obstacle, and even when the reactor is going to be thousands (or millions) of miles away from any people in a spacecraft, the danger of launching a nuclear reactor on a rocket is still too risky for some folks. There haven’t been any nuclear disasters in space, but as more and more nuclear powered spacecraft are built, the anti-nuclear groups may grow increasingly loud. Here are just a few nuclear spacecraft projects that could travel beyond our planet.
- NASA and DOE researchers have tested a new nuclear reactor design for spacecraft called the Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions (DUFF) experiment. This reactor relies on the heat from uranium fission to power a Stirling engine and can generate 24 watts of electricity. [url]
- Plutonium is the fissile material of choice for a lot of NASA spacecraft, but the US hasn’t produced much plutonium-238 since the 1980s. NASA could get a fresh supply, though, if the DOE continues its experiments for producing plutonium-238 at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee — which could produce about 3.3 pounds per year. [url]
- NASA has extensively tested its nuclear battery designs by smashing them and detonating them to assess their safety. If a nuclear-powered probe were to explode on the launchpad (or at any stage of getting into orbit or beyond), it’s unlikely that the radioactive material would cause much destruction. [url]
If you’d like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.