The US is showing a growing interest in using nuclear power in orbit. Now, the U.S. military has announced plans to launch several nuclear propulsion systems and power plants around our planet by 2027 at the latest.
More and more activity with nuclear ideas
The so-called Defense Innovation Unit (IUD) is a division of the U.S. Department of Defense that aims to make rapid use of emerging technologies for the armed forces. Observers describe the department, founded in 2015, as a “Pentagon experiment” with the goal of grouping innovative power into one unit. Since then, the IUD has announced that two prototype development contracts have been awarded. The goal: “Demonstrate the next generation of nuclear propulsion and energy options for spacecraft.”
The two American companies Ultra Safe Nuclear and Avalanche Energy were ordered out loud by Space.com. The assignment: The IUD wants to test “small spacecraft” in the so-called lunar space, that is, space within the lunar orbit, which is equipped with nuclear propulsion and energy systems. The publication does not show how much the department is investing in this, which makes it difficult at the moment to estimate the actual size of the projects.
This has been carefully planned
Ultra Safe Nuclear calls its project EmberCore, behind which lies the idea of a rechargeable radioisotope battery that can be used for propulsion and power. Compared to the previously tested plutonium systems, it should be possible to achieve ten times the performance here. “A few kilograms of fuel will provide more than 1 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy,” the IUD explains. Avalanche Energy plans an even more adventurous project with Orbitron.
For example, the first step is to capture fusion ions in electrostatic fields. Then a microwave should keep the electrons closer to the nuclei. “The resulting fusion combustion then produces energy particles that produce heat or electricity that can power a highly efficient propulsion system.”
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