August 16th, 2011

Power pack: nuclear power in space The Engineer

With plutonium-238 supplies running low, the race is on to find new power sources for spacecraft
Most of us have a clear image of what a real-world spacecraft looks like. Whether it’s a communications satellite, an Earth observation platform or even the International Space Station, the picture that would generally spring to mind is of a relatively small, probably irregular-shaped body dwarfed by the spreading oblongs of solar panels, providing the power for whatever systems are on board.
That’s fine for Earth orbit or the inner Solar System. But what happens if you need to send a spacecraft further away, where the sun is too weak to provide enough power, or to a place where there is no constant access to sunshine, such as the dark side of the Moon or to Mars?

February 9th, 2004

We have the technology The Engineer

The UK space industry could provide life support technology, propulsion, remotely-operated robots and autonomous software systems for a future European- manned Mars mission, experts claimed last week.

May 2nd, 2003

Flight path for fuel cells The Engineer

NASA’s Revolutionary Aeropropulsion Concepts programme is aiming to produce a fuel cell-powered aircraft the size of a Boeing 737 with zero CO2 emissions. ‘We think that fuel cells offer the greater long-term benefit if they can be made to work because they have a higher inherent thermal efficiency than conventional aircraft engines,’ said Peter McCallum, deputy head of NASA’s propulsion and power projects.

January 24th, 2003

Fission mission The Engineer

A European mission to send astronauts to Mars would be based on spacecraft powered by nuclear reactors, according to researchers at Qinetiq. Although the future holds little prospect of more funding for manned space flight, the European Space Agency wants to begin developing the necessary systems in readiness. It has awarded a contract to a consortium of companies including Qinetiq to study technologies for a journey to Mars and for use in its harsh environment, as part of its Aurora programme.

September 12th, 2002

On a wing and a fuel cell The Engineer

An unmanned aircraft capable of staying airborne for up to two weeks is to be developed by Boeing for the US military. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and could be ready for take-off by 2004, according to George Muellner, director of Boeing’s Air Force programmes.