Author Topic: How to Break into the Nuclear Space Applications Field?  (Read 2911 times)

Offline Marcus

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I've long been convinced that nuclear power will be the essential next step in space propulsion.

My question is, in the experience of those here, what is the best way for an engineer from a non-nuclear background to pursue training in nuclear engineering with emphasis on Space Nuclear Power both in terms of nuclear-electric, and nuclear-thermal applications? Specifically, I have been researching graduate-level SNP coursework; both what to take and where to take it. Of course, this is eventually directed toward securing employment designing, analyzing, and improving SNP systems that I (optimistically) forsee becoming a significant part of the aerospace industry within the next few decades.

SNP currently seems to be composed of an, admittedly, small cadre of designers scattered about the country with no serious coordinated efforts and few designs making it beyond the theoretical stage. I have a feeling this will change in the future, but for now, I am curious as to how to break into this field. While I've already started down the path I think is best, more input never hurt, so if anyone has any nuclear experience, please share whatever wisdom you wish.

1. School: Faculty is key, of course. Without good, experienced, professors, the worth of education is severly degraded no matter how big your supercollider or how many kW your test reactor produces.

Is it better to concentrate on a school with good faculty background in nuclear engineering even if they emphasize terrestrial nuclear power applications, or is it best to aim for a school with good faculty background in space propulsion while giving their nuclear program secondary importance? Anyone care to name their favorite school?

2. Research: Education is nothing without engineering experience, and most effective if coupled. Universities offer excellent incubators for R&D of advanced concepts like SNP applications, but finding an institution with a robust SNP R&D program is tough, and starting your own--without supportive faculty--is much tougher.

Would anyone care to list institutions they know where a Masters-level graduate student might work on, or initiate, a SNP project which--if deemed to be effective--might make it beyond the paper rocket stage.

3. Work: This is an easy one. How, where, and when can one make a career of SNP systems or design engineering?

Your feedback is greatly appreciated.
OPS!
One Percent for SPACE!

Offline kfsorensen

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RE: How to Break into the Nuclear Space Applications Field?
« Reply #1 on: 08/04/2006 09:39 pm »
Quote
Marcus - 4/8/2006  4:20 PM

Is it better to concentrate on a school with good faculty background in nuclear engineering even if they emphasize terrestrial nuclear power applications, or is it best to aim for a school with good faculty background in space propulsion while giving their nuclear program secondary importance?
You don't really have a choice on this one, so don't hesitate to go for a school with a good nuclear engineering program.  The good news is that a number of schools offer their nuclear engineering programs via distance learning programs, so as to augment the potential student pool.  That may be a very low-risk way to get more education in the field, especially if your current employer will pay for it.

Offline Marcus

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Re: How to Break into the Nuclear Space Applications Field?
« Reply #2 on: 08/07/2006 02:50 pm »
Thanks for the suggestion. I'm not really considering distance-learning programs because I believe them to be inferior to actual face-time with instructors. Yes, it would be nice to keep a comfortable level of income and a secure job, my employer would probably pay for the program, and it would be easier not to uproot myself, but I prefer to do things the hard way if I think there are benefits to it.

However, that doesn't mean that I'm right. I could use some opinions on distance-learning programs. Do you think they are as good as actual face-to-face coursework?
OPS!
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Offline Jon_Jones

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RE: How to Break into the Nuclear Space Applications Field?
« Reply #3 on: 08/07/2006 04:17 pm »
I think it's harder to get at the concepts that go beyond the page.... if you're doing a long distance course. there's a lot of information in a professor's voice, the way they phrase things, the things they omit.... stuff like that. and getting to ask questions... you could do it by email. that might work.


I'd like to be an NIAC Fellow working on something like this. perhaps investigating nuclear reactors for moon bases or other missions. Perhaps, if someone already has a plan working, I could go up there and run the machine or work on it down here on earth.
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Offline Jim

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RE: How to Break into the Nuclear Space Applications Field?
« Reply #4 on: 08/07/2006 05:09 pm »
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Jon_Jones - 7/8/2006  12:04 PM

I how i was going to get into nasa and maybe on a moon base.... naval nuclear reactor tech. the best research in the world is going on there. so I jumped at it and I'm completeing my degree. but another place i hope to find a start is at NASA's institute for advanced concepts.. try there site NIAC

Just be aware, the  NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts  is not " real" organization.   Only a few people work at NAIC and they are not NASA employees.  They  administer contracts/grants for the advanced studies.  The studies are done by other organizations.

Offline Gene DiGennaro

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RE: How to Break into the Nuclear Space Applications Field?
« Reply #5 on: 08/07/2006 06:06 pm »
For about two years I worked on RTG's for Teledyne Energy Systems in Baltimore. As an engineering technican I came into contact with engineers designing RTG's, Sterling Generators, and other advanced space nuclear systems. Many of the engineers there had degrees in materials science as we were trying to develop better thermocouple alloys for the RTG projects. Others had degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering. We had about 20 engineers working on space nuke projects.  

My advice would be to study materials engineering, then apply for a job at Teledyne, Swales, or Lockheed Martin ( makers of the GPHS and current RTG's).


Best of luck,


Gene

Offline Gene DiGennaro

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RE: How to Break into the Nuclear Space Applications Field?
« Reply #6 on: 08/07/2006 06:12 pm »
Quote
vanilla - 4/8/2006  4:26 PM

Quote
Marcus - 4/8/2006  4:20 PM

Is it better to concentrate on a school with good faculty background in nuclear engineering even if they emphasize terrestrial nuclear power applications, or is it best to aim for a school with good faculty background in space propulsion while giving their nuclear program secondary importance?
You don't really have a choice on this one, so don't hesitate to go for a school with a good nuclear engineering program.  The good news is that a number of schools offer their nuclear engineering programs via distance learning programs, so as to augment the potential student pool.  That may be a very low-risk way to get more education in the field, especially if your current employer will pay for it.

I have mixed feelings on distance learning. If you notice, very few Universities offer undergrad engineering degrees by distance elarning. My own experience says that these are really self taught courses. Many times I consulted engineers I was working with rather than my professor becuase the engineers were easily available. I had to make a special trip to school to get face time with my teacher. It was often difficult to convey a problem by email. Ultimately the demands of family (I have an autistic child) precluded any chance of completing my degree.


Hope this helps,
Gene

Offline selden

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Re: How to Break into the Nuclear Space Applications Field?
« Reply #7 on: 08/07/2006 10:23 pm »
Of course, if you want hands-on experience with the types of reactors that NASA is likely to be using on the Moon and Mars, you might take a look at the Web page http://www.navy.com/careers/officer/nuclear/
Selden

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