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Candidates for near-future nuclear propulsion systems

  1. Jan 10, 2004 #1
    Times are changing, what with the renewing of space exploration. Humanity should be un-arse-ing itself and moving towards our celestial neighbours. But we will only go to them, if we harness a better power souce. That, my friends, is good old nuclear propulsion. And yet, there are so many catagories of that type, that I want to know your opinions of which sub-catagory you like. The choices of which type you choose are listed here:

    1) Nuclear Thermal Propulsion; This group includes KIWI, ROVER, and NERVA type rockets.

    2) Nuclear Pulsed Propulsion; Includes both the ORION and DAEDALUS projects.

    3) Nuclear Electric Propulsion; Basically, using a nuclear reactor to power an ion engine similar to the DS1/NSTAR variant.

    4) Hybrid Thermal/Electric Propulsion; A combonation of 1. and 3., it could allow the escape from planets' gravity-wells, and interplanetary travel.

    Decide and state your opinion(s).
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 14, 2004 #2


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    Greetings !

    Well, I don't think one can really make a single
    decisive choice here. Space missions can have great differences
    in their parameters - mass, distance and more.

    In general, I think that 1 and 3 are the ones we
    should try and develop further for effective use.

    The thermal nuclear propulsion systems are mostly
    preferable for massive (manned - for example) missions,
    while the combination of a nuclear power source
    and an electric propulsion system could be great for
    large unmanned space-probes travelling far out in the
    solar system.

    I do not believe that prop. systems like the one
    from the Orion project are really practical,
    or at least won't be so any time soon.

    As for 4, I'm not quite certain what kind of
    a combined system you're describing.

    I'd like to add that there are other new prop.
    systems that show promise - like the M2P2 that
    uses a cloud of gas trapped by a magnetic field
    to intercept the solar wind particles, thus pushing
    back at and accelerating the spacecraft. For small
    probes this could be very effective.

    Also, electric propulsion systems using low-mass
    solar panels.

    Beyond that, we could be looking at nuclear fusion reactors
    powering electric propulsion systems and thermal engines.
    As well as stored anti-matter for power.

    I don't know of any system today, or likely in the near future,
    that would allow us to send interstellar probes out there.
    But I'd love to see someone invent something like that...:wink:

    Anyway, I'm getting carried away, as ussual with
    such a subject, got'ta go study...

    Live long and prosper.
  4. Jan 14, 2004 #3


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  5. Jan 14, 2004 #4
    Well, the ORION project would be useful for "Space Arks" or tugs to carry bases across long distances. Also, I believe that an ORION-based launch vehicle fired from a desert-type terrain could launch the major peripherals of a lunar/martian base to the planets/moons they should belong.

    Number four is a joint idea between NERVA-type propulsion and a nuclear-powered Deep Space One engine. The NTR would be used for orbital manuevers and the ion (electric) engine for interplanetary travel.

    Ah, mini-magnetospheric-plasma propulsion. One of my favorite types. Although it has great promise for Jovian/Interstellar probing, it is unlikely we would use it for a lunar mission. It's capability of using a very small amount of fuel and at the same time giving it a high velocity is great in the case that we need to get out of this system. I know we need to explore, but we need to work on a smaller scale right now before we get ambitous interstellar plans. I would love to see a probe built, but we need to establish a planetary empire before we can settle the interstellar frontier. In short, I agree, but not at this moment.

    Solar panels are ineffective for outer-system exploration, which is where there is a greater abundance of resources. It's simply impractical to have football sized fields of solar panels to give you only kilowatts of output energy. I'd take a tamed-nuke anyday.

    For stored anti-matter systems, It would be good to use antimatter to initiate a more conventional system, like the ICAN-II project. It would start fission-fusion reactions with a few nanograms of antimatter and accelerate the craft to semi-interstellar speeds. However, for pure matter-antimatter propulsion, I would wait until we could make and send scoopships to Sol to grab the stuff.

    \\//, (Vulcan hand-greeting) I shall live up to your words, and you the same.
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