Long-awaited Space Nuclear Reactor Project Announced
Long-awaited Space Nuclear Reactor Project Announced

Long-awaited Space Nuclear Reactor Project Announced

15 june, 20221 minute to read
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There's never been a better time to launch nuclear power into space, according to Atomos Space. Atomos is a startup that plans to conduct a basic critical test of a low-power fission reactor in orbit for the first time in decades. Nuclear reactors can help humans vastly expand our presence off Earth, but this dream has been stalled out for decades, partly due to regulations governing the use of nuclear power in space.

We’re definitely the first company to go out there and say that the biggest step isn’t the technology; it’s proving that it's possible from the regulatory perspective, according to Atomos Space CEO Vanessa Clark.

Nuclear power offers many advantages over the most abundant fuel in space, solar energy. As it doesn't require direct sunlight to function, nuclear-powered spacecraft could provide uninterrupted power on planetary bodies at night, or enable exploration of the darkest reaches of the solar system, and beyond. However, nuclear power poses unique risks, such as radioactive contamination and subsequent threats to ecosystems on Earth.

Therefore, Atomos is working on a reactor design that separates the two fuel loads needed to power the system with the goal of assembling them in space. The fuel parts, which contain low-enriched uranium, don’t interact until they are deployed in space, even if the launch vehicle explodes or experiences any other kind of malfunction.

If you have all of the reactor fuel in one place, it’s essentially a reactor even if you don’t turn it on whereas if you keep the fuel in separate loads, then it’s not actually a reactor until it’s in orbit, said Lucas Beveridge, Atomos Space’s senior nuclear engineer.

The company believes the US new Space Nuclear Power directorate has opened the door to low-cost reactors in space and currently hopes to launch its Neutrino mission within four to five years.

15 june, 2022
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