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Russia to Build Nuclear Space Engine by 2017

This is a discussion on Russia to Build Nuclear Space Engine by 2017 within the Space & Defense Technology forum, part of the Global Defense & Military category; A Russian Megawatt-class nuclear propulsion system for long-range manned spacecraft must be ready by 2017, Skolkovo Foundation's Nuclear Cluster head ...


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Old March 29th, 2012   #1
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Russia to Build Nuclear Space Engine by 2017

A Russian Megawatt-class nuclear propulsion system for long-range manned spacecraft must be ready by 2017, Skolkovo Foundation's Nuclear Cluster head Denis Kovalevich said on Wednesday.

“At present we are testing several types of fuel and later we will start drafting the design,” Kovalevich said. “The first parts [of the nuclear engine] should be built in 2013, and the engine is expected to be ready by 2017.”

The engine is being developed for interplanetary manned spacecraft to ensure that Russia maintains a competitive edge in the space race, including the exploration of the Moon and Mars.

The Russian government allocated 500 million rubles ($16.7 million) in 2010 to start a project to build a spacecraft with a nuclear engine. The overall investment in the project is estimated at 17 billion rubles (over $580 million) until 2019.

According to Russia’s nuclear power agency Rosatom, the development and construction of a nuclear propulsion system for spacecraft will cost over 7.2 billion rubles ($247 mln).

NASA started a program to develop a nuclear propulsion system in 2003, and spent several hundred million dollars on the project before cutting funding.

Russian space officials believe that nuclear engines for interplanetary spaceships are a very promising area, as solar power is too weak to be used as a power source at distances beyond Earth's orbit.

Russia to Build Nuclear Space Engine by 2017 | Science | RIA Novosti
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Old March 30th, 2012   #2
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NASA had been working on a nuclear Thermal Rocket Engine since the 60's (NERVA Project?) but discontinued it after the moon landings. Tests showed the technology did work well.

The engines have great potential, having twice the thrust ratio of standard chemical reaction engines and they are much, much lighter. Similar technology was being researched for large aircraft also, however, the fear of a nuclear powered aircraft crashing into a metropolitan area discouraged this application.

Not going to bore you with the wikipedia details, but the technology has potential so long as the environmental uproar it will create is dampened enough to allow it to move forward. I feel something like this will be necessary for interplanetary research. Russia or China could well deploy such a technology ahead of the U.S. simply because they have tighter controls over their populations and tend to ignore protests over new technology.
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Old March 31st, 2012   #3
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I know i'm completely out of my depth here but how would you keep the coolant stable whilst going in and out of the attmosphere.Nuclear meltdown iin mid-air sounds like a bad day for everyone
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Old March 31st, 2012   #4
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On Aircraft, the engines used a heat sink of high density liquid metal (mercury or gallium) to vent heat outside of the aircraft. Problem was that it required so much shielding that the aircraft was very heavy, else it became a suicide mission.
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Old April 1st, 2012   #5
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I feel something like this will be necessary for interplanetary research. Russia or China could well deploy such a technology ahead of the U.S. simply because they have tighter controls over their populations and tend to ignore protests over new technology.
Public opinion in Russia is very different from America. I suspect that the reaction to the launch of the world's first nuclear spaceship by Russia, for an interplanetary mission, would be met with public applause and a spike in ratings for the administration, rather then protests and distrust of nuclear technology in space.
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Old April 1st, 2012   #6
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From the looks of it they are building an engine to use in space, not in the atmosphere.

The engine would most likely be ion thruster based but use nuclear fuel for electrical generation.

The US seems to be betting on VASIMR
which is already in the 200kw range, pretty much the largest type of engine you would want to solar power. Clusters could be used with nuclear power to provide Megawatt levels.

MW levels provides the sort of force needed to get rover or manned sized ships to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn etc. Its interesting they are heading down this road. Russia's Grunt mission was interesting because they are interested at having a crack at a moon mission on Mars. It would be real interesting to do a Jupiter or Saturn Moons mission. In some ways a manned Jupiter moon or asteroid mission is much more feasible than a Mars landing.
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Old April 2nd, 2012   #7
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If there was a way to build and dock the ship outside our atmosphere then that would be better.all you need then is a system that takes crew and cargo to the docking station.
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Old April 2nd, 2012   #8
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If there was a way to build and dock the ship outside our atmosphere then that would be better.all you need then is a system that takes crew and cargo to the docking station.
The ISS (and mir and earlier) have docking ports and ISS is a large type of structure assembled in space.

A manned interplanetary craft wouldn't go up in one shot like the moon stuff did. Too much stuff to support people for years in space.

Assembled in orbit using cheaper non man rated launchers. The crew of the ISS could assemble the parts that aren't automated for assembly. The crew for the mission would then come up, and launch out of earth orbit to where ever they are going.

NASA was seriously considering a manned mission to Callisito, a large icey moon of Jupiter approximately the same size as mercury, but with a gravity like our moon by 2040.
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Old April 7th, 2012   #9
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In reality if they were to do that the best thing would be to boost the ISS or any large structure to a higher orbit. Right now it has to be boosted repeatedly at a cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

There was a plan to use the vasimr engine and test it as the booster for the ISS.

A manned or even unmanned long range craft assembled in GEO with a shipyard or ISS could use day falcon 9H to get large bigelow moduals and other cargo to LEO a tug boost it to GEO where it is assembled.

Really the ISS is very only and inefficent. Using current tech we could probably build a station 5x as large as the ISS with MUCH better systems and protection.

There are some rumors that SpaceX is looking into nuclear engines for space missions who knows.

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Originally Posted by StingrayOZ View Post
The ISS (and mir and earlier) have docking ports and ISS is a large type of structure assembled in space.

A manned interplanetary craft wouldn't go up in one shot like the moon stuff did. Too much stuff to support people for years in space.

Assembled in orbit using cheaper non man rated launchers. The crew of the ISS could assemble the parts that aren't automated for assembly. The crew for the mission would then come up, and launch out of earth orbit to where ever they are going.

NASA was seriously considering a manned mission to Callisito, a large icey moon of Jupiter approximately the same size as mercury, but with a gravity like our moon by 2040.
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Old April 9th, 2012   #10
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Originally Posted by StingrayOZ View Post
From the looks of it they are building an engine to use in space, not in the atmosphere.

The engine would most likely be ion thruster based but use nuclear fuel for electrical generation.

The US seems to be betting on VASIMR
Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
which is already in the 200kw range, pretty much the largest type of engine you would want to solar power. Clusters could be used with nuclear power to provide Megawatt levels.

MW levels provides the sort of force needed to get rover or manned sized ships to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn etc. Its interesting they are heading down this road. Russia's Grunt mission was interesting because they are interested at having a crack at a moon mission on Mars. It would be real interesting to do a Jupiter or Saturn Moons mission. In some ways a manned Jupiter moon or asteroid mission is much more feasible than a Mars landing.
Why need ion thruster? with nuclear power you can simply use water as propellent. It'll provide the spacecraft with higher propellent mass fraction. Beside that, water can also be serve a secondary function a source of oxygen for the crew through electrolysis. The Hydrogen produce can be stored in high pressure tank to be use in a maneuvering thrusters or as additional reaction mass..
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Old April 9th, 2012   #11
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Just a idea.
I can understand that crashing down in a city is a very very bad thing specially if its nuclear.

But what if tests go wrong? And the rocket blows up high in the atmos?
Or what effects will the exhaust have in space?
I am not much of a fisics person but what i do know that a lot of earth based rules do not apply in space.
So getting a " normal" rocket up into space is one thing, but getting a nuclear engine up there......

I mean has it ever been done? or has any nuclear item, device or asset been brought up in space and has there been any research on what the effects might be?

Because the last thing you want is hypothetical speaking that the exhaust for example would trigger a (whatever big boom effect) when it comes into contact with space based particles and " atmosphere"
Or that the nuclear fuel is going to start act funny in a way we did not encounter yet....due the fact thats its in space and that space rules might have a different effect upon it and makes it go BOOM or....well dunno.

And i know space is a almighty big place but what goes up will eventually come down, either by gratify or either by whatever reason or means of travel.
Earth is being bombarded every second with gazillions of particles and the last thing we need is them being "extra" radioactive.....just saying.
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Old April 9th, 2012   #12
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Originally Posted by StingrayOZ View Post
The ISS (and mir and earlier) have docking ports and ISS is a large type of structure assembled in space.

A manned interplanetary craft wouldn't go up in one shot like the moon stuff did. Too much stuff to support people for years in space.

Assembled in orbit using cheaper non man rated launchers. The crew of the ISS could assemble the parts that aren't automated for assembly. The crew for the mission would then come up, and launch out of earth orbit to where ever they are going.

NASA was seriously considering a manned mission to Callisito, a large icey moon of Jupiter approximately the same size as mercury, but with a gravity like our moon by 2040.
Yeah i did read something about that.
But one the other hand putting a man on the moon is a achievement everyone can be proud on, and i am sure that exploring will be done with success and with epic fails. However as i said earlier space is almighty big and we know only so little and the things we do know is mostly based upon calculations and science as we know it today.
However the what if factor is kinda huge as the data from satellites and probes tell us only so much.
My point here is imo it would be better for us to master our direct close space at home and perhaps mars where we know relative enough to somewhat save play around then taking it further...leave the " further" to the drones and satellites till we know more or understand our direct surroundings better.
Because going to space ain t cheap and taking it further will cost alot more and i may assume that if you are willing to spend that cash and time to invest in such a project that you at least want some sort of success..then going on a gut feeling and a lets hope idea.

Or am i wrong here?
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Old April 10th, 2012   #13
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Just a idea.
I can understand that crashing down in a city is a very very bad thing specially if its nuclear.

But what if tests go wrong? And the rocket blows up high in the atmos?
Or what effects will the exhaust have in space?
I am not much of a fisics person but what i do know that a lot of earth based rules do not apply in space.
So getting a " normal" rocket up into space is one thing, but getting a nuclear engine up there......

I mean has it ever been done? or has any nuclear item, device or asset been brought up in space and has there been any research on what the effects might be?

Because the last thing you want is hypothetical speaking that the exhaust for example would trigger a (whatever big boom effect) when it comes into contact with space based particles and " atmosphere"
Or that the nuclear fuel is going to start act funny in a way we did not encounter yet....due the fact thats its in space and that space rules might have a different effect upon it and makes it go BOOM or....well dunno.

And i know space is a almighty big place but what goes up will eventually come down, either by gratify or either by whatever reason or means of travel.
Earth is being bombarded every second with gazillions of particles and the last thing we need is them being "extra" radioactive.....just saying.
The russian have been sending Nuclear powered RORSAT to orbit since the 70s. This are no thermoelectric radioisotope generator like in Voyager spacecraft, But a circulation type nuclear reactor just like in a Nuclear powered vessels. To add to the danger, the RORSAT were placed at low earth orbit where the risk of the satellite making an unplan reentry is higher.

What the russian plan right now is a reactor for interplanetary spacecraft. The only time we have to worry is during the launch phase. The satellite most certainly will be launch into a high orbit where it'll take less time and effort to escape earth gravity. And once more during the return trip.

But the whole spacecraft doesn't necesserily have to reenter earth atmosphere. the large part of the spacecraft, including the reactor can be left behind in high orbit. Only a crew reentry pod need to descend to return the crew to earth. Then for further space mission, all they have to do is launching the crews and the additional propellent.
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Old April 11th, 2012   #14
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Why need ion thruster? with nuclear power you can simply use water as propellent. It'll provide the spacecraft with higher propellent mass fraction. Beside that, water can also be serve a secondary function a source of oxygen for the crew through electrolysis. The Hydrogen produce can be stored in high pressure tank to be use in a maneuvering thrusters or as additional reaction mass..
The ion thruster gives you more delta-V per pound than a nuclear steam thruster. The acceleration is less, but the peak velocity is higher.

Increasing the spacecraft propellant mass fraction is a big negative. Just for the sake of argument let’s assume that the ion thruster converts fuel mass into thrust 5x more efficiently than the nuclear steam engine. If the nuclear steam rocket needed to have a 50% propellant mass fraction for the job, the ion engine would only need a 6% propellant mass fraction for the same delta-V, and would be 47% lighter, and probably 40%+ cheaper.
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Old April 12th, 2012   #15
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The ion thruster gives you more delta-V per pound than a nuclear steam thruster. The acceleration is less, but the peak velocity is higher.
In outer space, there is no such thing as peak velocity. You can go as fast as you want without gravity, provided you have fuel to continue accelerating and that acceleration doesn't exceed bodily tolerances. Slowing down is a problem though as you have to reverse acceleration for the same duration that you were accelerating forward.

That's what the Ion engine was designed for. Its a low thrust engine that can actually use free gasses present in space as a fuel, Using free "scooped" fuel, it can work for years at about a 1000th of a gee thrust, slowly increasing speed at an exponential rate, until midpoint. Then you flip the ship around and start breaking for the remainder of the trip.
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