Nuclear science and technology in space

April 12, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear NewsSteven Arndt

Steven Arndt

Anyone who has heard me speak about the American Nuclear Society recently knows that I like to remind people of the ANS mission and vision statements. I invite people to read the exact words: Our mission is to “advance, foster, and spur the development and application of nuclear science, engineering, and technology to benefit society”; our vision is to see “nuclear technology . . . embraced for its vital contributions to improving peoples’ lives and preserving our planet.”

The meaning behind these statements is that ANS is here to help the profession save the world. I take that seriously: We are here to save the world. This month, Nuclear News is focusing on nuclear science, engineering, and technology’s role in space exploration both now and in the future. When we look at our mission, this is very fitting. The use of nuclear power systems in space goes back almost to the start of ANS. In 1961, the Transit 4A satellite became the first U.S. spacecraft to be powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). Combined with solar cells, RTGs have been used on the Moon and on satellites and to explore the solar system and beyond. One of the interesting things about these power sources is that they were used to provide both provide electricity and heat to keep the systems they were supporting from freezing. Since then, additional nuclear systems have been designed and developed—including fission power reactors and nuclear thermal propulsion—that will provide significantly more power and faster space journeys.

Artemis I mannequin crew outfitted with dosimeters for trip around the moon

November 18, 2022, 6:53AMNuclear News
A rendering of Helga and Zohar side by side aboard the Orion spacecraft. (Image: NASA/Lockheed Martin/DLR)

NASA’s Artemis I mission, successfully launched at 1:47 a.m. EST on November 16 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will travel 40,000 miles beyond the moon—farther from Earth than any human-crewed space mission has flown before. The historic trip was launched by the world’s largest rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), nearly 50 years after NASA last sent humans to the moon. And while no humans are on board the Orion spacecraft, two fabricated crew members—“Luna Twins” Helga and Zohar—were assembled with thousands of sensors to obtain the best estimates yet of cosmic radiation exposure to human tissues during space travel.

NN Asks: What fuels your commitment to nuclear technology?

February 8, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear NewsKelly Hartless

When I came to work at BWX Technologies immediately after getting my degree in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia, I was amazed to see how nuclear energy could be harnessed to both power and protect our country. Since then, I’ve come to see that nuclear energy can do even more. The nuclear industry’s next tasks are to address climate change, propel us to other bodies in the solar system, and provide power when we arrive. Recently developed coated fuels are an enabling technology for these tasks.