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Fusion Science and Technology
Trump leaves space nuclear policy executive order for Biden team
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.
H. Streckert, K. Blobaum, B. Chen, J. E. Fair, N. Hein, A. Nikroo, K. Quan, M. Stadermann
Fusion Science and Technology | Volume 63 | Number 2 | March-April 2013 | Pages 213-217
Technical Paper | Selected papers from 20th Target Fabrication Meeting, May 20-24, 2012, Santa Fe, NM, Guest Editor: Robert C. Cook | dx.doi.org/10.13182/FST13-TFM20-18
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Depleted uranium (DU) hohlraums consist of a sputter-deposited DU layer sandwiched between two sputter-deposited layers of gold and overcoated with a thick electrodeposited gold layer. Production of a multilayered system of dissimilar materials to tight tolerances requires a complex set of process steps. Process drift in production of DU hohlraums resulted in increased failures and led to unacceptably low production yields. Characterization of this failure mechanism indicated poor adhesion between dissimilar layers. Failure of one layer could be traced to the preceding layer. Ultimately, failures were traced to pretreatment of the mandrel for the initial deposition. Pretreatment of the mandrel involves an ion-etch step, which had drifted. Maintenance of the ion gun resulted in improved mandrels and improved process yields. Production yields from the DU sputter deposition were low with failures due to blistering and delamination. Oxidation of the DU due to gettering of residual oxygen or water in the sputter chamber was hypothesized. A process change was implemented to minimize the time between the DU and gold coatings. The change required removal of one production part to incorporate one additional gold sputter source. The production run was thus reduced from five parts to four parts. However, the production yield increased significantly, by 30%.