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Space Science

Russia Develops Spaceship With Nuclear Engine 297

Posted by samzenpus
from the glowing-exhaust dept.
Matt_dk writes "The Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos has developed a design for a piloted spacecraft powered by a nuclear engine, the head of the agency said on Wednesday. 'The project is aimed at implementing large-scale space exploration programs,' Anatoly Perminov said at a meeting of the commission on the modernization of the Russian economy. He added that the development of Megawatt-class nuclear space power systems (MCNSPS) for manned spacecraft was crucial for Russia if the country wanted to maintain a competitive edge in the space race, including the exploration of the Moon and Mars."
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Russia Develops Spaceship With Nuclear Engine

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  • by mpoulton (689851) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @06:59PM (#29903873)
    ...and if we're not careful, we'll lose. That still has consequences even with the real cold war over.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CopaceticOpus (965603)

      This could be a good source of motivation. Exploring the use of nuclear power for space exploration makes a ton of sense. Currently, when anyone brings it up, people express fears that it is too dangerous and expensive, and so let's just play it safe. Perhaps instead they can fear that other countries will develop it first and leave us behind.

      • I forgot to add one point. The original Space Race was the US doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons. It isn't necessarily a bad way to get things done!

      • If nuclear powered spacecraft are a great idea (of which I'm less than completely convinced), then great - let's go for them. But if the motivation for building what could be a very expensive and dangerous vehicle is nothing more than "but the Russians are doing it", then count me out. That would be a totally stupid reason for doing anything.

    • Subject/body of the comment:

      The space race isn't over... ...and if we're not careful, we'll lose. That still has consequences even with the real cold war over.

      Sig:

      When it comes to government, less is more.

      Is this a "libertarian except for a massive taxpayer-funded space program" sort of thing?

      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @09:42PM (#29905351)

        Is this a "libertarian except for a massive taxpayer-funded space program" sort of thing?

        NASA massive?

        Social Security is massive.

        The military is massive.

        Medicare is massive.

        Welfare is massive.

        Medicaid is massive.

        The "War on Terror" is massive.

        Department of Health and Human Services isn't so massive, but it's larger than NASA's budget by a factor of four.

        Department of Education? bigger than NASA.

        Discretionary spending? yep, bigger than NASA.

        VA? You might be starting to see a pattern - yes, it's bigger than NASA.

        HUD? ditto.

        State Department and Foreign Aid? bigger than NASA.

        Department of Homeland Security? Still bigger than NASA.

        This isn't a conclusive listing of all the things in the Federal Budget that are larger than NASA. What is actually is is a list of all the things in the Federal Budget that would still be bigger than NASA if we doubled NASA's budget.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by osu-neko (2604)

      ... even with the real cold war over.

      Putin didn't get the memo...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dimeglio (456244)

      What's wrong with some healthy competition. Nasa is developing the nuclear powered Stirling engine so Russia instead decides to go Nuclear... as in submarine style. Without the USSR, men would not have walked on the moon. I say, go for it!

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:05PM (#29903917) Homepage Journal

    They've drawn up a design.. wooo.. any nuclear engineer can do that - plenty of amateurs too.

    Building real hardware is the only way to develop launch technology. Tell me when they've gotten the funding to do some static firing.

    • by Mushdot (943219) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:08PM (#29903945) Homepage

      Hey man, they like to take their time, you know, not Russian to things.

    • by vivek7006 (585218)

      We don't need to worry, since this guy has already figured out a better design http://patentlaw.typepad.com/patent/2006/02/pto_requests_mo.html [typepad.com]

      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        I used to wonder what the point of patenting stupidity was.. and then I heard one of my friends say "well he's got a patent on it! They cost money! So he's investing in this idea, and he's not asking for much money to build a prototype." And there ya go, the essence of the scam.

        Worse yet are the people who have this 19th century view of the patent office and say stuff like "well, he couldn't get a patent if he didn't have a working prototype." Sigh.

      • by sconeu (64226)

        Well, the PTO realized this is bogus:

        Applicant is required to furnish a model of the instant invention. 35 U.S.C. 114. See Also 37 C.F.R. 1.91.

    • The Soviets were a lot more willing to shove nuclear reactors in places we were politically unwilling/unable to. The Russians may even have some Soviet prototypes around. It would be the same barely-post-war era tech all their stuff was, and it would be really, really, REALLY dangerous to use, but the very well might have gotten beyond blueprints.

      Seen the Soviet space shuttle prototype? Scary.

      • by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:42PM (#29904273) Journal

        The Soviets were a lot more willing to shove nuclear reactors in places we were politically unwilling/unable to. The Russians may even have some Soviet prototypes around. It would be the same barely-post-war era tech all their stuff was, and it would be really, really, REALLY dangerous to use, but the very well might have gotten beyond blueprints.

        As a matter of fact, the Soviets had a large number of nuclear reactors on satellites satellites (actual nuclear fission reactors, not radioisotope generators):

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RORSAT [wikipedia.org]
        http://www.astronautix.com/craft/usa.htm [astronautix.com]

        A number of them broke down and crashed back down to Earth, including one which crashed into Canada in 1978 and spread a decent amount of radioactive debris. Their nuclear-powered RORSAT series unfortunately also "had the lowest reliability and most quality problems of any Soviet space system."

      • If it was maintained well, Soviet shuttle was way more safe than US Space Shuttle since it was entirely based on liquid fuel. It was also completely reusable.

        I can't find my source now but I am sure I didn't watch it on some "red" propaganda channel, I watched it either on Discovery TV or Nat Geo.

    • by 1alpha7 (192745)
      We designed one in the 50s. Did some serious research on the idea. When I was a kid in the 60s, it was still taken seriously.
      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:32PM (#29904165) Homepage Journal

        Check out this book: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=zmpxV1ygjvsC [google.com.au]

        One of the best collected references on the nuclear thermal rocket propulsion development program that I've ever read.. and almost all the pages are available online.

        • I'll have to agree with the parent here-- they don't seem to have "developed" anything. Reading the article, they seem to be proposing a nuclear rocket, which they will do a paper study of that will be done in 2012.

          Good idea, by the way-- but I don't see any hint of any those "17 billion rubles" that they say they'll need.

          • They actually developed a nuclear thermal engine [astronautix.com] some years back. They could dust that off, put it on top some Angara stages and build a rocket.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by QuantumG (50515) *

              and by "dust it off" you mean embark on a multi-billion dollar technology maturation process right?

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_readiness_level [wikipedia.org]

              you're talking about a TRL-4 engine as if it is almost TRL-7.. each step up the ladder takes funding.. that's why Apollo, and the Manhattan project were such amazing achievements, they went from concept to operational with dozens of different subsystems in an incredibly short period of time - by spending a massive amount of money.

            • I'll have to agree with the parent here-- they don't seem to have "developed" anything. Reading the article, they seem to be proposing a nuclear rocket, which they will do a paper study of that will be done in 2012.

              They actually developed a nuclear thermal engine [astronautix.com] some years back. They could dust that off, put it on top some Angara stages and build a rocket.

              My apologies. I was talking about the subject discussed in the article; I wasn't talking about work done in the past.

    • by astar (203020)

      Funding. Remember the recent China-Russia high-speed rail deal. The Russians and Chinese have always had a deep mistrust of each other. To do this deal, the Russians had to let the Chinese own part of the Russian projects. This sort of thing between the two has never happened in all of history.

      China has 1.5 trillion dollars of US paper. Obama promised the Chinese we would defend the dollar, but the federal reserve has a weak dollar policy and the Chinese are unhappy.. The dollar has gone down more twe

    • Seriously, whenever a story about Chinese invention or Russian invention appears, the tone of comments instantly change. It is like Slashdot in Reagan era.

      Seriously, if both Russia and USA didn't work together, the International Space Station etc. was a complete failure since Soviets had some special expertise and Americans had some special expertise. When you watch NASA TV when ISS stuff going on, it is almost like half Russian, half English broadcast.

      You sound like some Taliban guys on Afghan mountains ca

      • by c6gunner (950153)

        Seriously, whenever a story about Chinese invention or Russian invention appears, the tone of comments instantly change.

        Very true. If this had been an article about an American project, there would be WAY more people alternating between complaining, fear-mongering, and derisively mocking it.

        Seriously, if both Russia and USA didn't work together, the International Space Station etc. was a complete failure since Soviets had some special expertise and Americans had some special expertise.When you watch NASA TV when ISS stuff going on, it is almost like half Russian, half English broadcast.

        Yep. Just like without Canada, the US wouldn't exist! After all, if you look at the continent, Canada takes up more than half of it ...

        Read some books/watch some documentaries about their nuclear powered bomber project which actually flown until even red bureaucrats figured it is way risky.

        The US made some, too, while managing NOT to have a Chernobyl and an economic/political collapse.

    • Soviets have been developing a nuclear rocket engine since 70s (RD-0410), and by 1990 they successfully tested a prototype on a stand, powerful enough to drive a real rocket. But by then the USSR disbanded, financing ceased, and the relevant docs were gradually lost.

  • STIV (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:05PM (#29903923)
    We are looking for the nuclear wessels!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:07PM (#29903939)

    Nucular... It's pronounced Nucular!

  • by voss (52565) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:09PM (#29903961)

    but the chinese can.

    What the US needs to get back into the space race is a good old fashioned nose tweaking.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They need to start doing coke?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Sir_Sri (199544)

      um.. russia has a debt of 6.5% of gdp and in 2008 ran a 60 billion dollar (~20%) budget surplus.
      The US by contrast has a public debt of about 60% of gdp and in 2008 ran a budget deficit of 400 billion dollars (~20 of budget).

      Not disputing that china has the money, but the russians have money to spend. Where the US is struggling to balance the books, the books are a lot bigger admittedly, the red portion is correspondingly bigger. If anything the russians are in the sort of position to try stuff like this.

    • by demachina (71715) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @08:15PM (#29904593)

      "What the US needs to get back into the space race is a good old fashioned nose tweaking."

      It doesn't seem to be working on the good ole economy front. China is running massive trade surpluses with the U.S., are taking all our jobs, and are seizing control of many of the world's raw materials. If there were any competitive fire left in America's belly it should have surfaced already. You can't really do another Apollo or compete in another space race when you are running trillion dollar trade and budget deficits, and mired in several pointless wars that are consuming what resources aren't going to health care and social security. During the 60's the US was still flush with economic success in the wake of World War II when the rest of the world had been flattened.

      The U.S. is starting to more closely resemble an early version of Great Britain, which having lost its empire in World War II and the pounds status as global reserve currency is now mired in debt and can't even support its vastly diminished military or pay its civil servants.

  • by SixDimensionalArray (604334) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:10PM (#29903971)
    It would be interesting to know if the technology includes any stipulation for nuclear pulse propulsion [wikipedia.org]. From the sound of it, that tech was pretty far along over 30 years ago. Space is a big place - would it not be awesome to have a new space race, MINUS the aggression, this time? Or is that simply impossible?
    • Nuclear pulse propulsion is illegal due to international treaties banning the atmospheric detonation of nuclear explosives.

      • by BrentH (1154987) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:43PM (#29904285)
        I don't think anyone is even considering the use of nukes to for liftoff..... It's meant for interplanetary of interstellar travel, from high orbits and beyond.
        • Yes because the test ban doesn't make this difficult at all, just do all the testing for the spaceship IN space? ~____~

          Also the nuclear pulse system IS for liftoff beyond the initial few hundred meters. The whole advantage of nuclear pulse propulsion is that you can lift MASSIVE things into space for cheap. And they can reach high speeds in space. The only reason they don't use nukes straight from the ground is that the debris would damage the ship.

          Before you worry, if launched from a safe location the de
      • by Trepidity (597)

        Surely you wouldn't use nuclear pulse propulsion for the launch, but only once outside the atmosphere, for the interplanetary/interstellar portion of a trip? I think the safety issues are more in how to make designs that don't scatter radioactivity during launch failures.

      • So it would only be used if we were attacked by baby elephant - like aliens.

  • TFA does not go into a great deal of detail - can some kind /. er please explain what these nuclear engines are all about? Is it a nuclear thermal engine [wikipedia.org]?
    • None of the sources I've found on the subject have any real information beyond what TFA says but by the sound of it, a nuclear thermal engine is likely.

  • The space WHAT? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:15PM (#29904017)

    Last time I checked, the space race was over for all intents and purposes by the early 1970's, and the world's space agencies had spent the following four decades mostly dicking around half-heartedly.

    Mind you, I think a renewed space race would be great. But there isn't one going on right now. There's not even a space special olympics at the moment.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Idiomatick (976696)
      Hey, a bunch of countries gaining LEO capabilities and sending up probes is completely comparable to the space special olympics.
    • Re:The space WHAT? (Score:5, Informative)

      by jrst (467762) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @03:26AM (#29907509)

      Hogwash. The US may has been dicking around, but others haven't. Your comment typifies everything wrong with the typical US attitude to space exploration.

      The Russians were in space almost continuously from 1971 onwards--from Salyut, through to Mir and then the ISS--running manned missions and supply flights almost continuously until the present. The only pause in the Russian program was a couple years between the time Mir came down and the first ISS module was put up (again, the Russians).

      From 1971-present the US couldn't put a man in space for years over several periods: after Skylab; after Challenger; after Columbia. Meanwhile, the Russians continued to grind along, slowly but surely, providing both manned and unmanned supply flights. Those Progress and Soyuz flights that helped keep the ISS alive? Those were from Russia, using proficiences they developed during the 20+ years *regularly* servicing Salyut and Mir and maintaining a manned presence in space.

      Check the total time in orbit for the Salyut and Mir, days inhabited, and the number of missions--it's pretty damned impressive. And that was long before the ISS or the Shuttle.

      They weren't "dicking around". They were doing serious science on long-term manned missions, and what it takes to sustain an effort, especially from an operational/practical perspective. It's no accident that a lot of the practical ISS LS systems are based on what the Russians learned and developed. NASA has refined some of those systems, but a lot of the basic tech (air revitalization, toilets, etc.) came from the Russian program.

      This isn't a "race", at least if you're interested in more than flags and boots. It's learning. It's exploration not just of places, but of systems. It's engineering. It's figuring out how to make people and machinery work in environments that are hostile and for which many effects are little understood. You do that by trying, correcting, and trying again. That takes time and a sustained effort.

  • The Big Bus (Score:4, Funny)

    by cloudscout (104011) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:16PM (#29904033) Homepage

    Wake me up when they've built a nuclear powered bus.

  • by nilbog (732352) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @07:17PM (#29904043) Homepage Journal

    I would just like to point out that developing a spaceship (The title) is a lot different than designing a spaceship (TFA).

    Call me when the headline is true.

  • Thats too little. Let be it 1.2Gigawatt, and make the 50's sci-fi writers talk about something more realistic.
  • Engine or generator? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Paradyme (950782)
    Is it really a direct nuclear engine, or just the generator to power something like a VASIMR or Hall Effect Thruster? There's a pretty big difference. For the second, as a power source, nuclear power has already been used for a while. Not as a full-blown fissile reactor, but rather a nuclear battery.
    • by tsotha (720379)

      Other people are guessing nuclear thermal, but you still won't get enough thrust out of that kind of engine to get into orbit. At least, not with a solid core design. I'm thinking what they're really designing is something like VASIMR with a nuclear reactor for the power plant. That would be cutting-edge engineering, certainly, but not necessarily cutting-edge science.

      Of course, what I'd really like to see is a gas core nuclear thermal engine. That would give you enough thrust:mass to get you to mars

  • I can imagine the testing. How many super soldiers can be accidentally created by nuclear fallout from failed fission spacecraft launches? That's my question.

  • Russia takes yet another Brave Powerpoint Forward in space exploration. That's, what, the six or seventh in 2009? I think that sets their all time record!

  • Mr. President, we must not allow a nuclear spaceship gap!

  • Disarmament... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Theaetetus (590071)
    The biggest issue here is the space disarmament treaty or whatever it's called... The US and Russia agreed to not weaponize space, and as we all know from reading Larry Niven, a nuclear propulsion system is also a nuclear weapon. Does this violate the treaty? I couldn't say without looking at it, but it's certainly something that should be looked at.
    • by MBGMorden (803437)

      A nuclear propulsion system is as much of a weapon as a regular rocket engine is a bomb. Sure all the components are there, and they CAN go boom, but the question is design and intent.

  • by mbone (558574) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @09:08PM (#29905105)

    Does anyone have any real information on this ? (NASA Contractor Report 179614, SPI-25-l. (1988) doesn't count.)

  • by crossmr (957846) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @09:22PM (#29905205) Journal

    Compared to current tech, how fast and how far could such a ship theoretically travel?

    • by w0mprat (1317953)
      A good question. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specific_impulse [wikipedia.org] will give you some idea.

      A straight up nuclear rocket, is anywhere from 5-10x better than say the space shuttle. (Is that a good guess? someone correct me) Weight for weight and payload for payload. That means you could from ground to the moon and back to earth orbit in one vehicle.

      More sophisticated designs with higher specific impulse make the trip to mars in a matter of months.

      They have no details about what they are planning to do, exc
  • Nice paper rocket, like the Kliper [russianspaceweb.com] which was also celebrated on these pages. Meanwhile NASA actually tests [spaceflightnow.com] its designs.

    • by tsotha (720379)

      NASA tested a design that's already a white elephant before it's even done. We're trying to replace a system that's useless for anything practical because it costs too much, and NASA's great idea is to take all the expensive parts and use them for the next generation. Color me very unimpressed.

  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @02:54AM (#29907353) Journal

    Headline: Russia Develops
    Subline: has developed a design
    Article text: the draft design would be finalized by 2012
    Translation: we're drawing stuff. we're going to draw more stuff

    FACT: The picture is of an RD-410, a 7 tonne thrust nuclear thermal/LH2, developed by Glushko for the N-1 during 1960-61 under Korolev. It was abandoned in 1963 when Korolev chose nuclear/ion as a preferable technology, and Glushko dropped it in favor of the gas core reactor design.

    Except for a few motors (mainly Glushko's) intended for the N-1 and some early nuclear thermal/ammonia long range missiles, Russia's nuclear motors have been intended for Mars missions. The designs were all fair to good, the planning rational. However, during the first decade of design funding was increasingly, then entirely, diverted to Korolev's N-1 booster, counterpart to the Saturn V, on which Soviet moon race hopes were pinned. After the 3 July 1969 explosion of the N-1, funding became scarce for all design work. In the 1 Sept 1969 post mortem report for the Soviet space program, Kamanin lists among the mistakes Korolev and Mishin's rejections of Glushko's motors.

    Since relinquishing the moon landing, all Russian nuclear motors have been intended for Mars flights. However, since the US canceled the NERVA and thus its Mars plans in 1972, there was no pressure for Russia to produce and funding was rare. Still, a few were built and tested. After 12 years of testing the official proposal was put forth to develop the RD-0140, a 3.5 tonne version of Glushko's original design, as well as a 70 tonne RD-0411. Two years later there was no longer any Soviet Union. But Glushko's design survived even this, and in 1994 no less than 3 designs emerged from Kuchatov (one) and Keldysh (two) institutes, for Mars craft using 3 or 4 of the RD-0410, for a 460 day round trip.

    There have been no Glushko motors built in over 20 years, but there could be. And obviously no Mars mission craft are being built. Designs and plans that persist for 50 years are rare in space exploration. There's little evidence to say whether yet another redesign by Ruskosmos is just another flag waving ritual by a home team that refuses to give up, or whether Glushko's creations have taken on a life of their own, and are simply successes waiting for their time. In any case, present 'development' is restricted to speculative design/redesign, yet more pictures on paper, hoping to become proposals.

  • by IHC Navistar (967161) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @03:17AM (#29907463)

    Ya know, if it wasn't for the Eco-Nazis that squash technological developments like this, the U.S. could have started developing these A LONG TIME AGO.

    Unfortunately, we have castrated ourselves in sole favor of "environmeltally freindly" technologies.

    Eco-Nazis, coupled with the severe Dumbing-Down of U.S. education, especially in the fields of physics, biology, mechanics, and electrical engineering, pose the biggest threat to the future of the United States as a hotbed of technological development.

    Next thing you know, other countries will be developing spacecraft with advanced technologies, while we will pioneer the development of a patchouli-and-love-powered VW microbus.

    Yes, I know that sounds terribly cynical, but the state of American education is terrible: We give English tests in other languages, encourage kids to fiddle with their iPhones and video games, and place more value on extra-curricular activities than actual academics. The BEST after-school program is an academic one.

    For example, the piss-poor university that I have to go to (unless I want to go broke attending school in either San Francisco or the L.A. area), CSU Monterey Bay, cuts academic classes like Biology, Chemistry, and Psychology, and claims 'budget concerns' and 'classroom space' as the reason. YET, they can still offer Yoga, Dance, and plenty of other academically meaningless classes.

    If we cut out all the CRAP in American schools, and offered academically important courses instead, budget concerns would be less of a problem, and students would spend their time learning things that can be used to develop important technologies, ranging from reducing environmental impact to advanced materials and systems, and space travel.

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