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Space Science

New Nuclear-powered Spaceship Design Revealed 285

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the goes-to-eleven dept.
Iddo Genuth writes "A U.S. based company introduced an innovative propulsion system that could significantly shorten round trips from Earth to Mars (from two years to only six months) and enable future spaceships to reach Jupiter after one year of space traveling. The system, which may dramatically affect interplanetary space travel is called the Miniature Magnetic Orion (Mini-Mag Orion for short), and is an optimization of the 1958 Orion interplanetary propulsion concept."
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New Nuclear-powered Spaceship Design Revealed

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  • What about manned? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tanman (90298) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:57PM (#20691873)
    speeding up via riding the wave of successive explosions is great for an unmanned craft. For a manned craft, though, I have a couple questions:

    1. How will people deal with the psychological effect of the never-ending pounding brought by this type of propulsion?

    2. Will scientists avoid this issue by instead strapping people into some kind of suspension and using a fewer number of larger explosions to get up-to-speed per day?

    3. What effect would that have on a person physically? We know people can take X G's, but what about being subjected to constant hits like that. If they are stronger, it could have some as-yet unforseen effect on our physiology.
  • Re:jupiter? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:58PM (#20691881)
    Like all things to do with space travel, it depends on how much you're willing to pay
  • Bulk??? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Goonie (8651) * <robert DOT merkel AT benambra DOT org> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:09PM (#20691973) Homepage
    If their gadget for doing the z-pinch thingy is anything like the Z machine [wikipedia.org] at Sandia you won't be putting it on a spacecraft any time soon...
  • by Cousarr (1117563) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:13PM (#20691997)
    First off, I am not a rocket scientist, but I am studying for a BS in Aerospace Engineering.

    How exactly is this supposed to reduce travel time? Current lengths of travel are not due to a lack of available thrust or due to amount of fuel available but rather the path taken to reach the destination. Currently in order to travel to say Mars Hohman transfers [wikipedia.org] are often used. These paths and others like them take a certain amount of time to complete, and stronger engines or more available Delta-V allow only for more instantaneous entrances of the transfers or more allowed change in course once at the ship's destination.

    In order to reduce time traveled a different orbital mechanic is needed. Even if a ship were to travel in a straight line toward a destination at a rapid enough speed that it would not have to meet up with it too much further along in its orbit it would have to be able to kill relative speed quickly enough to enter a capture orbit.

    Anyone know what orbital transfer method they're saying that this engine makes possible?
  • Not like old Orion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by StefanJ (88986) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:15PM (#20692009) Homepage Journal
    This one is going to be built in orbit. It will never take off or land.

    OTOH, the "fuel" pellets are going to be made of fissionable materials. I hope they point the nozzle in a direction that doesn't result in un-detonated bomblets burning up in the atmosphere.
  • by StefanJ (88986) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:32PM (#20692161) Homepage Journal
    As I recall, Hohman orbits are nice ellipses with body A at perisol and body B and aposol. You make a burn to get into it and out of it; the delta-v required is the difference in velocity between a body in a "circular" orbit at that radius and the velocity of a body in the elliptical orbit. If the planet happens to be at that point, you then just need to make another burn to get into orbit. Timing is important.

    Even Hohman orbits are too "spendy" for chemically fueled rockets. Thus the complex back-and-forth gravity-assist paths that NASA probes take on the way to the outer planets, and the use of aerobreaking by Mars probes.

    Other, faster transfers are possible. You just enter another sort of elliptical orbit whose path intersects earth's orbit when you leave it, and the destination planet's orbit at a time when the planet will be there. Of course, you have to have a spaceship capable of the much greater change in velocity to enter these orbits.

    The linked-too documents suggest that the "mini mag" is not only fuel efficient (read: high Isp), but has a decent amount of thrust. This means it CAN make the drastic changes in velocity necessary.
  • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) * on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:47PM (#20692285) Journal
    My guess is that it turns around about half way during the trip to start slowing down.

    Wouldn't necessarily be half way, we're not talking linear vectors are we? If we're playing catch-up with a planetary target the crossover point might be a bit later than km/2. It's more expensive to escape the closer you are to the sun's gravity well, but I'd think a lot of the energy would be soaked relative to the velocity of the target, i.e. there may not be as much energy to dump near the target. Space ain't flat, found that out from my office mate who was doing the orbital geometry for Pioneer Venus 12/13 some years back (which had the inverse effect, being inward from EO).

    I don't know why he kept a separate set of comps in furlongs per fortnight, but us programmerz was wierd back then.

  • by modecx (130548) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:31PM (#20692549)
    Isn't it kinda sad that people on a site which is supposedly for nerds can't naturally grasp the idea of waves, pulse-width, modulation, duty cycle, and psychophysical thresholds?

    Exactly what kind of nerds are they cranking out these days?
  • Re:Wrong (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Friday September 21, 2007 @12:04AM (#20692741) Journal
    Which is quite ironic, considering Orion was conceived as a way to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles...
  • by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@gm a i l.com> on Friday September 21, 2007 @12:46AM (#20692927) Homepage Journal
    The common thread that we keep coming back to is that to really do spaceflight, you must have some form of nuclear power. The laws of physics are profoundly strong on this point. Space is too far and gravity is too strong for chemical rockets to really be successful.

    The ideal solution is to find a source of uranium in space, beyond Earth's gravity well, such that, we can mine the uranium in space, and fuel nuclear powered spacecraft from perhaps the moon. I don't see that happening any time soon, as, it is my understanding that its is practically a fluke that a relatively small body like Earth should wind up with such a heavy ore at all. The gods were kind to us during our solar system formation, and it feels unlikely that any asteroid should have a significant uranium deposit.

    That leaves us to launching live reactors into space from Earth. Unfortunately, despite safety precautions, the environmental movement makes the development of nuclear powered spacecraft a political impossibility. We can't even build a reactor on land without a mountain of red tape and lawsuits from the greens, even when we know that building such reactors are necessary to combat global warming. Putting a nuclear reactor into something that flies is unthinkable to them, and they would surely think that putting a nuclear reactor into a rocket is downright crazy. Even RTGs, relatively benign, are met with protest. Were it up them, there would be no pictures of Saturn at all from Cassini.

    In this one area, the left wing claim to scientific curiosity falls flat on its face. The science is not worth the risk. I think the key to be able to do this, really, is going to be to engage the right wing instead and paint such research as a matter of national security. The right wing, despite its proclaimed conservatism, has a penchant for throwing caution into the wind when it suits it. Heck, they'd blow off global warming just to be able to keep driving trucks. Put a nuclear reactor on a spacecraft to get to Mars in a few weeks, sure, why not? For them, though, the issue is going to be why. Doing it just for the science isn't going to cut it. However, the right does have a penchant for engaging in enormous projects for ideological goals - witness the cold war with Russia, the current war on terror and the invasion of Iraq. None of THOSE projects were cheap or short term, and honestly, only the right wing has the zeal needed to overcome failure after failure as would occur in a really long term space colonization project. Even if you disagree with it, religion is an enormously powerful motivator.

    Thus, you'll never get many righties to buy into space for the science, or the future profits, because both don't really do much. But if you could sell them space as a religious duty, then by God, they will say screw the left, throw a hundred billion dollars a year into building nuclear rockets that this country needs, all to create christian colonies on planets and take resources from asteroids. If anything, one could always further argue that with the Russians claiming the North Pole, then, the USA has to claim (something), and it may as well be Mars and the asteroid belt. Asking them to void the UN Treaty on claiming stuff on space would elicit an automatic yes - as the right is already predisposed against the UN.

    Surely such a project would be better for the world than the war on terror.

    The point is this, and this goes for both left and right. We are entering a time of great consequence for the United States, if not the world, and, it is time for us to stop seeing each other as enemies simply because we have different ideologies. We can make our differences work for us, so long as we express what we want for ourselves as individuals, not as collective party members, and from there identify those strengths we have in each other.

    In my case, I selfishly want to see the USA building a fleet of nuclear, manned, rockets, mining asteroids, and colonizing other planets. And, if I have to read the
  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Friday September 21, 2007 @02:54AM (#20693581)
    Even if this craft can reach speeds of 10% the speed of light we would still be limited to interplanetary exploration and exploitation (human nature dictates this).



    The solar system is a big enough place for exploitation, and when we're done with the planets and their moons we can look at the Kuiper belt. That should keep us busy for the next couple of centuries, at least, and also allow us to use technologies to actually analyze nearby star systems without having to send probes there just yet.


    And once the solar system gets too small for use, we probably have the necessary technologies, experience and infrastructure to send something on an interstellar voyage (probably a generation ship or even a small planetoid outfitted with propulsion systems).

  • by shinma (106792) on Friday September 21, 2007 @08:10AM (#20695127) Homepage

    a small planetoid outfitted with propulsion systems
    We could call it Warworld [wikipedia.org].
  • by Cerebus (10185) on Friday September 21, 2007 @10:16AM (#20696703) Homepage
    My understanding is that one of the killers (no pun intended) of the Orion concept was that radioactive ejecta from the drive would inevitably find its way to ground-level, even if it was operating in Lunar orbit. It was mentioned in Dyson's book _Project Orion_ that they had estimated the number of annual excess deaths from cancer caused by launching a single Orion from ground as well as from various orbits.

    Since this concept will still eject various nasty radioisotopes as well, I wonder if they've done the same analysis.

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