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Title: The role of nuclear reactors in space exploration and development

Abstract

The United States has launched more than 20 radioisotopic thermoelectric generators (RTGs) into space over the past 30 yr but has launched only one nuclear reactor, and that was in 1965. Russia has launched more than 30 reactors. The RTGs use the heat of alpha decay of {sup 238}Pu for power and typically generate <1 kW of electricity. Apollo, Pioneer, Voyager, Viking, Galileo, Ulysses, and Cassini all used RTGs. Space reactors use the fission energy of {sup 235}U; typical designs are for 100 to 1000 kW of electricity. The only US space reactor launch (SNAP-10A) was a demonstration mission. One reason for the lack of space reactor use by the United States was the lack of space missions that required high power. But, another was the assumed negative publicity that would accompany a reactor launch. The net result is that all space reactor programs after 1970 were terminated before an operating space reactor could be developed, and they are now many years from recovering the ability to build them. Two major near-term needs for space reactors are the human exploration of Mars and advanced missions to and beyond the orbit of Jupiter. To help obtain public acceptance of space reactors,more » one must correct some of the misconceptions concerning space reactors and convey the following facts to the public and to decision makers: Space reactors are 1000 times smaller in power and size than a commercial power reactor. A space reactor at launch is only as radioactive as a pile of dirt 60 m (200 ft) across. A space reactor contains no plutonium at launch. It does not become significantly radioactive until it is turned on, and it will be engineered so that no launch accident can turn it on, even if that means fueling it after launch. The reactor will not be turned on until it is in a high stable orbit or even on an earth-escape trajectory for some missions. The benefits of space reactors are that they give humanity a stairway to the planets and perhaps the stars. They open a new frontier for their children and their grandchildren. They pave the way for all life on earth to move out into the solar system. At one time, humans built and flew space reactors; it is time to do so again.« less

Authors:
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Sandia National Lab., Albuquerque, NM (US)
OSTI Identifier:
20104491
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Journal Name:
Transactions of the American Nuclear Society
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 82; Conference: 2000 Annual Meeting - American Nuclear Society, San Diego, CA (US), 06/04/2000--06/08/2000; Other Information: PBD: 2000; Journal ID: ISSN 0003-018X
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
21 SPECIFIC NUCLEAR REACTORS AND ASSOCIATED PLANTS; 29 ENERGY PLANNING, POLICY AND ECONOMY; PUBLIC OPINION; PUBLIC ANXIETY; SPACE POWER REACTORS; SPACE FLIGHT; SOLAR SYSTEM; EXPLORATION; RADIOACTIVITY; NESDPS Office of Nuclear Energy Space and Defense Power Systems

Citation Formats

Lipinski, R J. The role of nuclear reactors in space exploration and development. United States: N. p., 2000. Web.
Lipinski, R J. The role of nuclear reactors in space exploration and development. United States.
Lipinski, R J. Sat . "The role of nuclear reactors in space exploration and development". United States.
@article{osti_20104491,
title = {The role of nuclear reactors in space exploration and development},
author = {Lipinski, R J},
abstractNote = {The United States has launched more than 20 radioisotopic thermoelectric generators (RTGs) into space over the past 30 yr but has launched only one nuclear reactor, and that was in 1965. Russia has launched more than 30 reactors. The RTGs use the heat of alpha decay of {sup 238}Pu for power and typically generate <1 kW of electricity. Apollo, Pioneer, Voyager, Viking, Galileo, Ulysses, and Cassini all used RTGs. Space reactors use the fission energy of {sup 235}U; typical designs are for 100 to 1000 kW of electricity. The only US space reactor launch (SNAP-10A) was a demonstration mission. One reason for the lack of space reactor use by the United States was the lack of space missions that required high power. But, another was the assumed negative publicity that would accompany a reactor launch. The net result is that all space reactor programs after 1970 were terminated before an operating space reactor could be developed, and they are now many years from recovering the ability to build them. Two major near-term needs for space reactors are the human exploration of Mars and advanced missions to and beyond the orbit of Jupiter. To help obtain public acceptance of space reactors, one must correct some of the misconceptions concerning space reactors and convey the following facts to the public and to decision makers: Space reactors are 1000 times smaller in power and size than a commercial power reactor. A space reactor at launch is only as radioactive as a pile of dirt 60 m (200 ft) across. A space reactor contains no plutonium at launch. It does not become significantly radioactive until it is turned on, and it will be engineered so that no launch accident can turn it on, even if that means fueling it after launch. The reactor will not be turned on until it is in a high stable orbit or even on an earth-escape trajectory for some missions. The benefits of space reactors are that they give humanity a stairway to the planets and perhaps the stars. They open a new frontier for their children and their grandchildren. They pave the way for all life on earth to move out into the solar system. At one time, humans built and flew space reactors; it is time to do so again.},
doi = {},
journal = {Transactions of the American Nuclear Society},
issn = {0003-018X},
number = ,
volume = 82,
place = {United States},
year = {2000},
month = {7}
}