Journal of Nuclear Energy Science & Power Generation TechnologyISSN: 2325-9809

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Commentary, J Nucl Ene Sci Power Generat Technol Vol: 9 Issue: 4

Reactors in Space

Sophie Kate*

Scitechnol Editorial Office, London, United Kingdom

*Corresponding Author : Sophie Kate
Scitechnol Editorial Office, London, United Kingdom
E-mail: [email protected]

Received: November 24, 2020; Accepted: Novemver 27, 2020; Published: December 04, 2020

Citation: Kate S (2020) Reactors in Space. J Nucl Ene Sci Power Generat Technol 9:4.

Keywords: solar cells , radioisotope fuel , Nuclear Power Reactors , nuclear workhorses

Commentary

Astrionics requires power at many stages, from initial launch of vehicle to subsequent manoeuvring. Especially in manned missions, it is used for instrumentation and warming or cooling of vital systems. Unlike solar energy, nuclear power works independently of sunlight, which is important for deep space exploration. Nuclear-based system has less mass and more compact than solar cells of similar power. Therefore, they are easier to orient and direct in space. Its compactness means low mass and high energy, a combination necessary for getting far into space.

Nuclear reactors can provide unlimited power for longer durations. But they are not feasible for applications below 10 kW. For continuous supply of low levels, i.e, upto 5 kW of power, radioisotopes are used predominantly. It is because of this reason, for long interplanetary missions, radioisotope fuel such as plutonium oxide is preferred for communications and powering of experiments.

A tremendous amount of heat is emitted during nuclear process which can be used to generate electricity in converted form through thermoelectrics or it is used directly to supply. The nuclear workhorses for current space missions are the RTGs and the TEGs powered by radioisotopes in the Russian Federation that provide electricity through static conversion at power levels of up to half a kilowatt. One of the nuclear reactors used in space was SNAP-10 A by the USA in 1965 and the Soviet/ Russian programme has routinely used them. A total of thirty-four nuclear powered Soviet spacecraft were launched between 1970 and 1989.

Nuclear Power Reactors are used in space because of their several advantages over conventional sources, such as (a) independent of distance and orientation with respect to sun, (b) compactness as compared to other devices (a 10 MW solar array would require solar panels that cover an area of 68 000 m2 at the distance of Mars and 760 000 m2 at Jupiter and their size would render them impracticable), (c) having better mass and size parameters while using on unmanned spacecraft, (d) has the capacity to provide a power level two to three times greater with NPS mass depending relatively on power improvement, (e) resistant to earth’s radiation belts, (f) the probably of incorporating nuclear power with electrical thrusters to give the highest efficiency of specific impulse for thrust and to build propulsion systems to allow launch of payload masses greater than conventional chemical orbital boosters.

In the future, space NPSs and combined Nuclear Power/ Propulsion Systems (NPPSs) with an electrical power level of several hundred kilowatts will enable such long term space missions as global environmental monitoring, production at facilities in space, supply of power for lunar and Martian missions, and others. Nuclear power will provide enhanced environmental safeguards in using nuclear power in innovative ways, such as “space elevator” to deliver space-derived objects to surface of Earth. Nuclear systems will enable humankind to expand beyond the boundaries of Earth, provide new frontiers for exploration, protect the Earth, and renew critical natural resources.

There are several feasible designs of nuclear reactors that can be used in space. Advanced space mission requirements for high power levels (25,500 kW) combined with compact size and long lasting duration favours the use of the fast reactor spectrum with highly enriched fuel. One design for a liquid metal cooled space reactor, which is still a major contender for the future. This design is heavily dependent upon the designs of terrestrial liquid metal cooled fast reactors but is adapted for spacecraft in which the mission is power production rather than breeding or waste reduction.

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