Author Topic: Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?  (Read 3904 times)

Offline michaelwy

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Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?
« on: 12/23/2011 05:05 AM »
I wonder if there are plans to build a nuclear reactor in space, like you see on a submarine? I am not thinking about propulsion, but rather to use the energy from a small reactor to power life support and a magnetic field around the spacecraft.

Offline Sparky

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Re: Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?
« Reply #1 on: 12/23/2011 05:56 AM »
Yes, and they have been in space for decades.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator

Offline Jim

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Re: Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?
« Reply #2 on: 12/23/2011 11:51 AM »

Offline Jim

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Re: Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?
« Reply #3 on: 12/23/2011 11:52 AM »
I wonder if there are plans to build a nuclear reactor in space, like you see on a submarine? I am not thinking about propulsion, but rather to use the energy from a small reactor to power life support and a magnetic field around the spacecraft.

Why use a reactor when solar arrays can provide power.  What is the magnetic field needed for?

A reactor is only for high power such as propulsion.   

There aren't any plans for in space reactors.  There is talk of reactors for lunar bases.  But there is no real work in progress.
« Last Edit: 12/23/2011 11:55 AM by Jim »

Offline Nomadd

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Re: Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?
« Reply #4 on: 12/23/2011 12:12 PM »
 The US launched one in 1965. I think it was something like 1.5% efficient. The Russians have launched at least 30 of them.
 There are always plans. They're worth about as much as the paper, or powerpoint they're printed on without money, political will and purpose.

 A magnetic field would be for shielding high energy protons and heavy nuclei from solar flares.
 One thing that killed JIMO was probably the realization of how vastly they underestimated the difficulty of putting one together.
« Last Edit: 12/23/2011 12:14 PM by Nomadd »

Offline Atlan

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Re: Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?
« Reply #5 on: 12/23/2011 01:14 PM »
There are 2 running projects at the moment, both russian.
The first one in concept stage: a modular 500 kW reactor for energy production.
http://topwar.ru/2490-rossiya-razrabatyvaet-yadernyj-dvigatel-dlya-kosmicheskix-korablej.html

And the second one is a nuclear reactor/ion booster combination, which is already in the designing phase. The money is already there as it seems.
http://ria.ru/science/20110816/418271586.html
http://www.atomic-energy.ru/smi/2011/04/12/21062

Unfortunately all good links i found are in russian.
« Last Edit: 12/23/2011 01:15 PM by Atlan »
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Offline michaelwy

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Re: Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?
« Reply #6 on: 12/24/2011 01:38 AM »
There are 2 running projects at the moment, both russian.
The first one in concept stage: a modular 500 kW reactor for energy production.
http://topwar.ru/2490-rossiya-razrabatyvaet-yadernyj-dvigatel-dlya-kosmicheskix-korablej.html

And the second one is a nuclear reactor/ion booster combination, which is already in the designing phase. The money is already there as it seems.
http://ria.ru/science/20110816/418271586.html
http://www.atomic-energy.ru/smi/2011/04/12/21062

Unfortunately all good links i found are in russian.

Russian is no problem for google translate. From the first link:

"Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) on Tuesday announced that next year plans to begin work on the development of standardized modules of nuclear power plants for spacecraft. Director of RSC "Energia" Vitaly Lopota said the first launches of reactors ranging from 150 to 500 kW can be implemented in 2020. Earlier the head of Russian Federal Space Agency Anatoly Perminov said that the development of nuclear power systems for megawatt-class manned spacecraft is crucial to maintaining competitiveness in the Russian space industry, including exploration of the moon and Mars. For the project will require about 17 billion rubles. In addition, the company is working on the concept of the nuclear space tug, which can more than halve the amount of the cost of removal of cargo into orbit.
A nuclear reactor is used as an energy source for the ion engine is capable to bring space exploration to a new level. The principle of operation of the engine is the gas ionization and its acceleration by an electrostatic field to high speeds exceeding 210 km / s, which is much larger than that of classical chemical rocket engines (3-4.5 km / s). At present, ion engines are widely used in space vehicles. However, this is basically low-power power plants with a weak draft, as an ion engine requires a lot of electricity, measured in hundreds of kilowatt-hours. Also, the nuclear reactor may heat the hydrogen up to several thousand degrees and give more reactive thrust, with no need to use an oxidizing agent. In any kind of space nuclear reactor can provide the spacecraft with the necessary energy, thrust and provide a quick flight to the most remote corners of the solar system, where too little sunlight to use solar panels"

Offline john smith 19

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Re: Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?
« Reply #7 on: 01/16/2012 10:42 AM »
I wonder if there are plans to build a nuclear reactor in space, like you see on a submarine? I am not thinking about propulsion, but rather to use the energy from a small reactor to power life support and a magnetic field around the spacecraft.

Plans yes.

Actual built hardware. No.

The US built and flew a SNAP 10A reactor rated c500W in the mid 1960's. The FSU ran ones for their naval reconnaissance radar satellite programme (one of which smeared itself across Canada in the late 70's) rated at a few Kw and their TOPAZ design hit 6Kw and has also been flight tested.

All of these fall *far* short of the 100Kw system Robert Zubrin required for his proposed Mars missions. The NASA SAFE400 (100Kwe) is at this scale but funding is limited.
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Offline Patchouli

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Re: Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?
« Reply #8 on: 01/16/2012 03:07 PM »
I wonder if there are plans to build a nuclear reactor in space, like you see on a submarine? I am not thinking about propulsion, but rather to use the energy from a small reactor to power life support and a magnetic field around the spacecraft.

Plans yes.

Actual built hardware. No.

The US built and flew a SNAP 10A reactor rated c500W in the mid 1960's. The FSU ran ones for their naval reconnaissance radar satellite programme (one of which smeared itself across Canada in the late 70's) rated at a few Kw and their TOPAZ design hit 6Kw and has also been flight tested.

All of these fall *far* short of the 100Kw system Robert Zubrin required for his proposed Mars missions. The NASA SAFE400 (100Kwe) is at this scale but funding is limited.

It should be noted SNAP-10A was thermal electric which is only 2 to 6% efficient vs 30+% percent efficiency for a good Rankine cycle setup.
If it had a Rankine turbine it would have been a  6 to 12.6 KW power source depending on a 20 to 42 % efficiency.
Still the lack of a reactor is an elephant in the room issue for any serious BEO exploration.

No solar is not workable on Mars or the Moon.
Mars has dust storms and a crew cannot go into hibernation like a rover and the Moon has that pesky 14 day night.
« Last Edit: 01/16/2012 03:19 PM by Patchouli »

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?
« Reply #9 on: 01/16/2012 05:46 PM »
...
No solar is not workable on Mars or the Moon.
Mars has dust storms and a crew cannot go into hibernation like a rover and the Moon has that pesky 14 day night.
It's not as simple as that.
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Offline Patchouli

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Re: Are there plans for a nuclear reactor in space?
« Reply #10 on: 01/16/2012 06:02 PM »
...
No solar is not workable on Mars or the Moon.
Mars has dust storms and a crew cannot go into hibernation like a rover and the Moon has that pesky 14 day night.
It's not as simple as that.

I forget to mention there's also lighting condition due to the terrain.
MSL for example will be able to go places the MER rovers could not due to solar exposure.

Though there are workarounds for example ISRU and methane storage can make things less of a problem for solar on Mars.

There also are the perpetually sun lite peaks on the Moon but this would limit you to those regions.
I'd want full global lunar operational capability.

A work a around for solar on the Moon might be a SPS at L1 or L2 and beam the power to the surface base.

A good space reactor solves all these issues in an elegant and robust fashion.
« Last Edit: 01/16/2012 06:12 PM by Patchouli »

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