World’s leading countries struggle to be the first to use nuclear power in space
Russia is the world’s leader in the development of nuclear technologies for space objects
Modern scientists give a lot of consideration to the question of nuclear power in space nowadays. The necessity to develop systems of space nuclear energy is based not only on economic or technical interests, but on geopolitical reasons too. The country, which comes first in the development of the nuclear power in space, will rule the human civilization.
The concept to develop a high-performance missile engine on the base of a special nuclear reactor had been prepared by the middle of the 1960s. The traction of the new engine would surpass the capacities of best fuel-powered engines, scientists presumed. A specialized research reactor complex, known for the Russian initials as IVG-1, was built with a view to conduct experiments to check the suppositions. The construction was started in 1964 on the territory of the nuclear range ground in Kazakhstan. The new engine was launched in March of 1975. Russian specialists obtained reliable information about the practical use of the nuclear power in space by 1988. The experiments proved that the nuclear power could provide compact and powerful sources of power for engines and supply energy to space-stationed objects.
Russia is the world’s leader in the development of nuclear technologies for space objects. Russian scientists have created over 30 nuclear reactors capable of producing electric power by means of the direct power conversion.
On the other hand, the human civilization is already facing a whole bouquet of severe ecological problems, which the nuclear power has caused. However, the need in the power production grows every year on the planet: it will reach the highest point by the middle of the current century already. Moving the basic energy production into space could be a way out of the problem. There will be certain ecological restrictions imposed too, because of the traffic from Earth to build power-generating systems in space. Scientists believe that people will subsequently start using space resources for the purpose: all necessary mineral resources can be found on the Moon, for example.
Experts of the Russian space corporation Energia think that nuclear power for the Moon and other planets would be the most efficient way to build permanent settlements and productions there. The conquest of space is unthinkable without the use of nuclear power nowadays. A 20-40 kilowatt nuclear plant would be optimal for a lunar station; small stations could also be assembled into large modules, if necessary.
In addition, a nuclear missile engine is the only option that can be used to explore distant space. Large traction nuclear engines will allow to cut the duration of a flight from Earth to Mars: the flight will become 1.5 times shorter. It will take a spaceship 460 days to fly to Mars, if a spaceship is outfitted with an engine system comprised of several 7-ton traction nuclear engines.
The Russian Federation can boast of having the complete infrastructure to start working on the projects of using nuclear power in space. Russia has the prototype of a nuclear missile engine, which possesses the necessary performance to impalement the projects.
It is noteworthy that the list of countries that evince their interest in the nuclear space problem is extending. The USA, the European Union and China are taking efforts to develop nuclear space technologies. The world’s leading states compete for the future leadership and industrial orders in a very lucrative technological field. For the time being, Russia has very good chances to become the technological leader during a new space exploration stage.
Read the original in Russian: (Translated by: Dmitry Sudakov)