The first problem NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe wants his newly minted Advisory Council to tackle is how to use nuclear technology in space – a project that heavily involves Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center. O’Keefe and other NASA officials outlined a new approach for the NASA Advisory Council Tuesday that would break the 20-member board into two groups – one for policy group and one for science and technology. Huntsville lawyer Mark McDaniel, who serves on the council, is lobbying to be placed in the policy group. The science group’s members would focus on which missions NASA should or could tackle, while the policy group would tackle how the space agency could solve key problems.
Nuclear power O’Keefe priority The Huntsville Times
NASA pumps $400m into nuclear space probe The Register
NASA has awarded Northrop Grumman a $400m contract to co-design the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) space probe – slated for a rendevouz with Jovian moons Callisto, Europa and Ganymede some time after 2012. The JIMO project has generated a certain amount of controversy due to its uranium-fuelled nuclear fission reactor – which creates electricity to drive the “nuclear electric propulsion (NEP)” system. In simple terms, NEP uses the electricity produced by the reactor to ionise propellant atoms which can then be ejected at high velocity from the vehicle’s propulsion system by magnetic or electrified grids. NASA has already proven this “ion drive” technology aboard Deep Space 1, although electricity for the thrusters was in that case provided by solar panels.
Explosive growth has made the People’s Republic of China the most power-hungry nation on earth. Get ready for the mass-produced, meltdown-proof future of nuclear energy.
Project Prometheus Boeing
“Great Civilizations Do Great Things”
While the exploration of the Moon and other planets in our solar system is exciting, the first task for astronauts and robots alike is to actually get to those destinations. To facilitate inter-solar system travel, NASA has committed itself to the study of a number of far-out propulsion methods. Researchers are hoping the space agency’s new Propulsion Research Center will help scientists move at least some of those new methods from the theoretical to reality.
NASA and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration – Naval Reactors (NR) Thursday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will lead to the development, design, delivery, and operational support of civilian space nuclear reactors within NASA’s Project Prometheus.
To send astronauts back to the moon, NASA is planning to begin by making maximum use of existing U.S. and foreign rockets as launching systems. Vehicles under consideration may use updated propulsion systems that could blast a flotilla of spacecraft from the Earth to the vicinity of the moon. For voyages of longer duration, however — to Mars and possibly even more distant destinations — NASA is designing a whole new system for both space propulsion and space power. If successful, the system could provide future astronauts a swifter means of voyaging far beyond the moon and equip their ships and robotic scouts with far more electrical power than ever has been available to space missions before.
NASA has issued its mission design requirements to three industry teams for a proposed mission to Jupiter and its three icy moons. The requirements are also the first product formulated by NASA’s new Office of Exploration Systems in Washington.
Nuclear research at ORNL The Oak Ridger
Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s nuclear-related research involves everything from revolutionary reactor concepts to power sources for space missions. “We have the broadest base of nuclear work,” said David Hill, associate laboratory director for Energy and Engineering Technologies. That’s a good thing, especially if you pay attention to news reports that indicate the nuclear power industry is talking about revival and that the American reliance on nuclear energy is likely to grow significantly in coming decades.
The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Naval Reactors (NR) Program haas joined NASA in its effort to investigate and develop space nuclear power and propulsion technologies for civilian applications. These activities could enable unprecedented space exploration missions and scientific return unachievable with current technology. NR brings 50-plus years of practical experience in developing safe, rugged, reliable, compact and long-lived reactor systems designed to operate in unforgiving environments. NR is a joint DOE and Department of the Navy organization responsible for all aspects of naval nuclear propulsion.