Ongoing Space Nuclear Systems Development in the United States
Ongoing Space Nuclear Systems Development in the United States Reliable, long-life power systems are required for ambitious space exploration missions. Nuclear power and propulsion options can enable a bold, new set of missions and introduce propulsion capabilities to achieve access to science destinations that are not possible with more conventional systems. Space nuclear power options can be divided into three main categories: radioisotope power for heating or low power applications; fission power systems for non-terrestrial surface application or for spacecraft power; and fission power systems for electric propulsion or direct thermal propulsion. Each of these areas has been investigated in the United States since the 1950s, achieving various stages of development. While some nuclear systems have achieved flight deployment, others continue to be researched today. This paper will provide a brief overview of historical space nuclear programs in the U.S. and will provide a summary of the ongoing space nuclear systems research, development, and deployment in the United States.
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