Trump leaves space nuclear policy executive order for Biden team

January 20, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News

A hot fire test of the core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi was not completed as planned. The SLS is the vehicle meant to propel a crewed mission to the moon in 2024. Source: NASA Television

Among the executive orders President Trump issued during his last weeks in office was “Promoting Small Modular Reactors for National Defense and Space Exploration,” which builds on the Space Policy Directives published during his term. The order, issued on January 12, calls for actions within the next six months by NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD), together with the Department of Energy and other federal entities. Whether the Biden administration will retain some, all, or none of the specific goals of the Trump administration’s space nuclear policy remains to be seen, but one thing is very clear: If deep space exploration remains a priority, nuclear-powered and -propelled spacecraft will be needed.

The prospects for near-term deployment of nuclear propulsion and power systems in space improved during Trump’s presidency. However, Trump left office days after a hot fire test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket did not go as planned. The SLS rocket is meant to propel crewed missions to the moon in 2024 and to enable a series of long-duration lunar missions that could be powered by small lunar reactor installations. The test on January 16 of four engines that were supposed to fire for over eight minutes was automatically aborted after one minute, casting some doubt that a planned November 2021 Artemis I mission can go ahead on schedule.

New U.S. space nuclear policy released

December 18, 2020, 7:04AMNuclear News

An artist's concept of a fission power system on the lunar surface. Image: NASA

A national strategy for the responsible and effective use of space nuclear power and propulsion (SNPP)—Space Policy Directive-6 (SPD-6)—was released by the White House on December 16 as a presidential memorandum.

Space nuclear systems include radioisotope power systems and nuclear reactors used for power, heating, or propulsion. Nuclear energy can produce more power at lower mass and volume compared to other energy sources and can shorten transit times for crewed and robotic spacecraft, thereby reducing radiation exposure in harsh space environments. SPD-6 establishes a road map for getting space nuclear systems into service and sets up high-level goals, principles, and federal agencies’ roles and responsibilities.

NASA work on lattice confinement fusion grabs attention

August 18, 2020, 11:35AMNuclear News

An article recently published on the IEEE Energywise blog heralds “Spacecraft of the Future,” which could be powered by lattice confinement fusion. While lattice confinement fusion is not a new concept and is definitely not ready for practical applications, it has been detected within metal samples by NASA researchers at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, using an electron accelerator–driven experimental process.

One small step for fission—on the Moon and beyond

July 27, 2020, 12:02PMNuclear News

A reliable energy source is critical for long-duration space exploration. NASA, targeting launch readiness by the end of 2026, has teamed up with the Department of Energy and Idaho National Laboratory to solicit realistic assessments of fission surface power systems designed for deployment on the Moon that could, with little modification, be sent to Mars as well.

Are the Tides Turning for Advanced U.S. Nuclear?

January 31, 2019, 6:01AMANS Nuclear CafeDoug Hardtmayer

RadioNuclear.orgWelcome to the New Year!  Even though I am on the road, there is just so much happening lately in nuclear I could not pass up the opportunity to talk about it! This episode of RadioNuclear, we take a look at recent and exciting legislation and policy for advanced nuclear. This includes the passages of the NEIMA and NEICA bills and what the Idaho National Laboratory may look like in the coming years. We also discuss the NRC's recent decision on post Fukushima regulation. Lastly, we look on how you can adopt a dog from the Chernobyl exclusion zone. No, I am not making that up!

The Mini-Mag Orion Space Propulsion System

April 25, 2013, 6:00AMANS Nuclear CafeStan Tackett

ANST logoIn my previous article on the history of nuclear pulse propulsion, I outlined three research programs in nuclear propulsion systems for space travel.  The first of these, Project Orion, was investigated in the 1950s and 1960s as a very serious and practical option for space travel.  Its only limiting factor was the signing of the International Test Ban Treaty in 1963 that barred the detonation of nuclear weapons in space.

The Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn

February 20, 2013, 2:57PMANS Nuclear CafeStan Tackett

Cassini-Huygens is a Flagship-class NASA-ESA-ASI robotic spacecraft sent to the Saturn system. It has studied the planet and its many natural satellites since its arrival there in 2004, as well as observing Jupiter and the Heliosphere, and testing the theory of relativity. Launched in 1997 after nearly two decades of gestation, it includes a Saturn orbiter Cassini and an atmospheric probe/lander Huygens that landed in 2005 on the moon Titan. Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit, and its mission is ongoing as of 2013.  It is powered by a plutonium power source, and has facilitated many landmark scientific discoveries in its mission to the stars.

ANS Nuclear Cafe Matinee: DUFF Space Nuclear Reactor Prototype

November 30, 2012, 7:00AMANS Nuclear Cafe

A joint Department of Energy and NASA team has demonstrated a simple, robust fission reactor prototype [note: see Comments for more accurate and complete description] intended for development for future space exploration missions. The DUFF (Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions) experiment represents the first demonstration in the United State-since 1965-of a space nuclear reactor system to produce electricity.

NASA's Roadmap to the Nuclear Thermal Rocket

July 9, 2012, 6:00AMANS Nuclear CafeWes Deason

It is certainly exciting times for NASA and the space nuclear community, as physical testing of nuclear thermal rockets (NTRs) and associated components has begun at NASA and the Department of Energy laboratories across the country. Nuclear thermal propulsion, as discussed in a previous article, is just one form of nuclear propulsion with extensive research behind it, and the only form with an extensive testing background. Near-term efforts by NASA will focus on preparation for ground and flight tests of a scalable Nuclear Thermal Rocket around 2020. However, the larger purpose of the recently restarted testing track is to develop an engine for manned travel to an asteroid, and eventually to our neighboring planet, Mars.