NASA's nuclear rocket program is making a comeback
What the Future
NASA just got 120 $5 million if didn't even ask for the reason nuclear powered rockets.
NASA has been flirting with the idea of nuclear powered spaceflight since the 1940s because it offers some significant advantages over traditional rocket propulsion.
Here's how it works.
Energy from nuclear fission heats hydrogen molecules which are accelerated through a nozzle creating propulsion.
A nuclear reaction releases about 10 million times the energy of a chemical reaction.
And the chemical reaction that powers today's rockets requires a lot of heavy fuel.
That heavy fuel means that in order to reach distant targets like Jupiter or Saturn NASA needs to allow on a gravity assist.
Also known as the slingshot effect, this energy-saving maneuver nearly doubles the travel time between worlds, also doubling the hypothetical space traveler's exposure to space radiation.
Nuclear thermal propulsion could make this slingshot effect a thing of the past But this technology also poses some unique risks.
If a nuclear rocket explodes on the launch pad or breaks apart in the atmosphere radioactive contamination could spread and cause serious.
It's problems, so researchers must proceed with caution.
Since 1959, the United States has built and tested about 20 different nuclear thermal rockets, though none has ever flown, but that could change in the next few years.
Congress recently set aside $125 million, to revitalize the development of nuclear thermal rockets.
NASA hadn't ask for any money for that purpose.
But with leaders in business and politics talking about Mars colonies, lunar gateway and space force.
It's not much of a surprise NASA is being asked to dust off its old idea once again.
$70 million have already being earmarked for potential 2024 nuclear flight demo.
But it's unclear how nuclear thermal proportion is in the NASA long term goal.
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