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(Popular Science)   Sixty years ago today, the U.S. detonated the first hydrogen bomb. So where are our atomic-powered spaceships? We were promised atomic-powered spaceships, dammit   (popsci.com) divider line 35
    More: Interesting, hydrogen bombs, United States, Van Allen Radiation Belt, nuclear tests, nuclear fissions, government scientists, Oppenheimer, Los Alamos  
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1275 clicks; posted to Geek » on 02 Nov 2012 at 9:42 AM (1 year ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2012-11-02 06:56:43 AM
They're here. You just can't see them as they are out in space - doing space stuff
 
2012-11-02 07:19:58 AM
Not an expert, and going from memory-but I believe the US launched at least one nuclear reactor into space back in the 60's. It only lasted a few weeks until something broke. Still orbiting if I remember correctly.

And while not strictly a nuclear reactor, many spaceships have been powered by radioactive decay of nuclear material. I believe this is how deep space probes are powered, since they are well outside the range of "solar".
 
2012-11-02 07:27:35 AM
We have them. Cassini, for example. RTG (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator) powered spacecraft are out there. They're not the type of reactors we have for grid power, they don't have moving parts and are less likely to have something break.
 
2012-11-02 09:58:40 AM
We could make all kinds of nuclear powered machinery and devices. They would be very effective and long lasting. One possibility is cars powered by decaying Thorium. There are 2 problems though.

1) you're effectively giving moderately radioactive materials to the general population. Everyone would be carrying a potential dirty bomb, whether by malfunction or malice.

2) Eventually we would need to dispose of the radioactive materials. Our current infrastructure wouldn't be able to handle the load. We would need a Yucca Mountain in every state.
 
2012-11-02 10:01:33 AM
dl.dropbox.com

Project Orion was done in by the anti-nukes people. They were scared of the potential raw awesomeness involved when launching with the recoil force of a building sized nuclear machine gun.
It still has its fans as this is the fastest method for reaching another star that we could build today. But its not happening anytime soon.


I suspect it will have to wait until we've got the machinery to build ships outside of earths atmosphere.
 
2012-11-02 10:03:14 AM
I can't believe no one has mentioned RTGs yet.
 
2012-11-02 10:03:45 AM
There was a TED talk I saw about a nuclear powered spacecraft... as it turned out, if the G's didn't crush the passengers, the radiation would fry them... but it was pretty well looked into from what the guy was explaining.
 
2012-11-02 10:10:08 AM
If you read science fiction published between about 1940-1970, you'll see a lot (a lot a lot) of speculative fiction about the impending explosion of space travel, which made sense, given what was happening at the time. Many authors saw a turn-of-the-century Earth as one that had already discovered fast spaceflight, and had bases on the moon, Mars, Venus, and with civilian populated space stations- this was an ideal embraced by pop culture as well, clearly signaling an interest in the development in that direction.

What happened?

Following beating the pesky Commies to the moon, there wasn't anything left to win. Corporations quickly realized that given the expense, commercial spaceflight wouldn't be viable for a couple decades until costs came down- and as such, left it to the government. The government, having won the space race (and shortly thereafter, the Cold War), and having extracted most of the useful military research from the space program (see Rainbow Bombs: Nukes in Space for more info), didn't have much of an interest in a quasi-military program that cost billions of dollars (among other resources)- after they got their ICBMs and satellites in orbit, they stopped caring. Most of the real research could be carried out by unmanned probes, which we could boost just fine with existing rockets. As such, interest and funding began to dry up, and shift to other areas, such as: in the event of a nuclear attack, how could we maintain communications between our sites when radio is useless due to the atmospheric noise from the bombs, and all the phone lines are down. Maybe, if we created a network between our computers, so they could all talk to each other...

Once the corporations realized the profit potential of a consumer culture depending on electronic gadgetry (as well as a new way to advertise and deliver these products), that sealed the deal.

We could have been moving upward and outward. We instead moved inward, to the point where you can't have a face to face conversation with someone without them looking at their phone at least once. Not saying that's a bad thing, but the degradation of humanity's spaceflight efforts can be at least partially attributed to "winning" the space race, and the diversion of that focus to other endeavors afterwards. Had the US (and to follow, the rest of the world) maintained that degree of focus, we may well have had our moonbase already.
 
2012-11-02 10:21:53 AM
Had one, but they wimped out. NERVA
 
2012-11-02 10:24:25 AM

JohnnyC: There was a TED talk I saw about a nuclear powered spacecraft... as it turned out, if the G's didn't crush the passengers, the radiation would fry them... but it was pretty well looked into from what the guy was explaining.


That was the reason they had to be so big (We're talking about an aircraft carrier sized ship that would have a shield plate weighing hundreds of tons. Made from lightweight chunks of steel and ferro-cement).
The mass of the ship helped to absorb the impact of the nuke.

Also: Radiation from nukes is less of an issue than the radiation coming from other sources space. Especially if you're in a heavily shielded structure.

The problem is getting the damn thing off the ground.
You can't get it into orbit on chemical rockets, and a launch would mean setting off hundreds of explosions.
The nuclear test ban treaty pretty much spelled the end of it.
 
2012-11-02 10:26:58 AM

JohnnyC: There was a TED talk I saw about a nuclear powered spacecraft... as it turned out, if the G's didn't crush the passengers, the radiation would fry them... but it was pretty well looked into from what the guy was explaining.


IIRC, some kind of ion thruster that's accelerating the ship at a constant 1G would make for a pretty fast trip to Mars.
 
2012-11-02 10:30:17 AM
Hooray, the world and most of it's species got one step closer to extinction.....oh hooray, let's all celebrate stupidity..
 
2012-11-02 11:13:42 AM

Solon Isonomia: JohnnyC: There was a TED talk I saw about a nuclear powered spacecraft... as it turned out, if the G's didn't crush the passengers, the radiation would fry them... but it was pretty well looked into from what the guy was explaining.

IIRC, some kind of ion thruster that's accelerating the ship at a constant 1G would make for a pretty fast trip to Mars.


It would have to be a hugely powerful ion thruster to generate 1G. The NSTAR thruster on Deep Space 1 only produced about 92 millinewtons.
 
2012-11-02 11:16:25 AM

Solon Isonomia: JohnnyC: There was a TED talk I saw about a nuclear powered spacecraft... as it turned out, if the G's didn't crush the passengers, the radiation would fry them... but it was pretty well looked into from what the guy was explaining.

IIRC, some kind of ion thruster engine that's accelerating the ship at a constant 1G would make for a pretty fast trip to Mars.


At around 10-20N per MW, an ion engine doing that would need power levels in the petawatt range (the Atlas V is around 10MN during initial boost). I wouldn't hold your breath.
 
2012-11-02 11:19:44 AM
I enjoy reading some of the older Sci-Fi to see how things like this have changed even there. In Asimov's Foundation series, nuclear power is for everything, from powering cities and spaceships all the way down to minor household appliances and jewelry.

But newer stuff worked through anti-matter and is in zero-point energy.
I wonder what would be up next?
 
2012-11-02 11:23:17 AM
I keep hearing that there were plans drawn up for nuclear powered ships, but they never went into prototyping. The problem seemed to be, more than anything, fears that the public wouldn't appreciate the thought of an orbiting nuclear reactor that could rain fissile material down without notice.

"Plans" of course doesn't mean "feasible plans." They also drew up plans to invade the moon in the event the Soviets got there first and built a base. They also had plans for a half dozen super-astronaughts to magically build a fully functioning military base, which were dutifully drawn up even though the people doing the "planning" knew it wasn't possible.
 
2012-11-02 11:41:28 AM
I'm hoping someone works out open field controlled fusion so we can build the fusion drives we need to get anywhere in the solar system in short order.

Dyson's Orion was an interesting idea but fission bomb drive would pollute the lanes between planets with radioactive debris after a few dozen passes. It might have been alright for star travel but I doubt you'd get above a few % of the speed of light before navigation becomes a total biatch.
 
2012-11-02 11:51:58 AM

indarwinsshadow: Hooray, the world and most of it's species got one step closer to extinction.....oh hooray, let's all celebrate stupidity..


Oh hi there QA... oh wait huh?
/doubletake
 
2012-11-02 11:54:54 AM
Spaceship goes up, gets up high, blows up. EMP disables all electronics throughout the entire country.

So, obviously. Send up two ships each carrying the reactive material right? An explosion would spread radioactive material across the country, but that could be dealt with.

Try explaining that to our enemies and the rest of the world. We are sending up nuclear items to use for a rocket! No no, not a nuke! We promise it will work perfect and not "crash" into our enemies.
 
2012-11-02 12:21:34 PM
We were also promised flying cars! I don't see any flying cars!
 
2012-11-02 01:09:29 PM
It takes more intelligence to build things than it does to blow them up.
 
2012-11-02 01:20:47 PM

seniorgato: Spaceship goes up, gets up high, blows up. EMP disables all electronics throughout the entire country.

So, obviously. Send up two ships each carrying the reactive material right? An explosion would spread radioactive material across the country, but that could be dealt with.

Try explaining that to our enemies and the rest of the world. We are sending up nuclear items to use for a rocket! No no, not a nuke! We promise it will work perfect and not "crash" into our enemies.


We kinda do it from time to time with smaller RTG's. Note the lack of solar panels on Curiosity.
What we don't do is to send up a full sized nuclear reactor, and we've only detonated one nuclear weapon in the upper atmosphere IIRC (Starfish-Prime, Which sounds like a crappy transformer grandparents give you on Christmas).

There was scuttlebutt about making a new kind of reactor to power bigger instruments, but its unlikely to go anywhere.
Its simply less trouble and expense to use solar panels in space.

/As long as you're inside the orbit of Mars, anyway.
 
2012-11-02 01:51:08 PM
 
2012-11-02 02:03:03 PM
www.nasa.gov

Pu-238 thermoelectric powered, just like every unmanned space probe ever. FTW
 
2012-11-02 02:15:58 PM

mdking09: [www.nasa.gov image 466x248]

Pu-238 thermoelectric powered, just like every unmanned space probe ever. FTW


Except, of course, for the Mariner series, and Mars Pathfinder, and Mars Global Surveyor, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MESSENGER, and Surveyor, and the Ranger series of spacecraft, and of course the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Clementine, not to mention Deep Space 1, Deep Impact, Genesis, Stardust, Pioneer Venus, NEAR Shoemaker, and Helios 1 and 2. I'm sure I missed a few.
 
2012-11-02 02:44:52 PM

dittybopper: Except, of course, for the Mariner series, and Mars Pathfinder, and Mars Global Surveyor, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MESSENGER, and Surveyor, and the Ranger series of spacecraft, and of course the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Clementine, not to mention Deep Space 1, Deep Impact, Genesis, Stardust, Pioneer Venus, NEAR Shoemaker, and Helios 1 and 2. I'm sure I missed a few.


Thanks asshat... I was exaggerating for the internet. STFU.

It sounded way cooler than "Just like 24 unmanned space probes that were unable to be powered by solar panels."
 
2012-11-02 03:46:58 PM
the mars rover is nuclear powered as well as viking i believe. Nuke powered spaceships have been around forever.
 
2012-11-02 04:07:35 PM

mdking09: dittybopper: Except, of course, for the Mariner series, and Mars Pathfinder, and Mars Global Surveyor, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MESSENGER, and Surveyor, and the Ranger series of spacecraft, and of course the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Clementine, not to mention Deep Space 1, Deep Impact, Genesis, Stardust, Pioneer Venus, NEAR Shoemaker, and Helios 1 and 2. I'm sure I missed a few.

Thanks asshat... I was exaggerating for the internet. STFU.

It sounded way cooler than "Just like 24 unmanned space probes that were unable to be powered by solar panels."


Dude, this is *FARK*. WTF did you expect?
 
2012-11-02 04:23:34 PM

dittybopper: Dude, this is *FARK*. WTF did you expect?


you could have at least offered a reach-around.. Even that common courtesy extends to the internet.
 
2012-11-02 04:29:36 PM

JohnnyC: There was a TED talk


Found the link: Click here to listen about the Atomic Spaceship, Project Orion (8 minutes long).
 
2012-11-02 05:27:36 PM

bluorangefyre: We were also promised flying cars! I don't see any flying cars!


Scroo the flying cars--where's my 3-day work week?!?
 
2012-11-02 07:23:35 PM
 
2012-11-03 12:03:18 AM

JohnnyC: JohnnyC: There was a TED talk

Found the link: Click here to listen about the Atomic Spaceship, Project Orion (8 minutes long).


If anybody wants to read a great book on Ted Taylor with a good overview of nuclear bomb physics, check this out. Also a mention of Orion.

images.betterworldbooks.com
 
2012-11-03 12:49:05 AM
NERVA
 
2012-11-03 09:19:23 AM

Cassandre: bluorangefyre: We were also promised flying cars! I don't see any flying cars!

Scroo the flying cars--where's my 3-day work week?!?


I'm working it already. As a matter of fact, I'm about to go to work right now.

/the 3-day work week is the entire weekend, so you get to miss anything fun
 
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