Nuclear propulsion
Nuclear propulsion includes a wide variety of propulsion methods that fulfil the promise of the Atomic Age
Atomic Age
The Atomic Age, also known as the Atomic Era, is a phrase typically used to delineate the period of history following the detonation of the first nuclear bomb Trinity on July 16, 1945...

 by using some form of nuclear reaction
Nuclear reaction
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce products different from the initial particles...

 as their primary power source.

Surface ships and submarines

Many military submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

s, aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

s and, owing to crude oil prices and emissions
Exhaust gas
Exhaust gas or flue gas is emitted as a result of the combustion of fuels such as natural gas, gasoline/petrol, diesel fuel, fuel oil or coal. According to the type of engine, it is discharged into the atmosphere through an exhaust pipe, flue gas stack or propelling nozzle.It often disperses...

, a growing number of large civilian surface ships, especially icebreaker
An icebreaker is a special-purpose ship or boat designed to move and navigate through ice-covered waters. Although the term usually refers to ice-breaking ships, it may also refer to smaller vessels .For a ship to be considered an icebreaker, it requires three traits most...

s, use nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

s as their power plants.
  • See nuclear marine propulsion
    Nuclear marine propulsion
    Nuclear marine propulsion is propulsion of a ship by a nuclear reactor. Naval nuclear propulsion is propulsion that specifically refers to naval warships...

     for civil use
    • List of civilian nuclear ships
  • nuclear navy
    Nuclear navy
    Nuclear navy, or nuclear powered navy consists of ships powered by relatively small onboard nuclear reactors known as naval reactors. The concept was revolutionary for naval warfare when first proposed, as it meant that these vessels did not need to stop for fuel like their conventional...

     for military use
    • List of United States Naval reactors
    • Soviet naval reactors
    • Nuclear submarine
      Nuclear submarine
      A nuclear submarine is a submarine powered by a nuclear reactor . The performance advantages of nuclear submarines over "conventional" submarines are considerable: nuclear propulsion, being completely independent of air, frees the submarine from the need to surface frequently, as is necessary for...


The Ford Nucleon
Ford Nucleon
The Ford Nucleon was a scale model concept car developed by Ford Motor Company in 1958 as a design on how a nuclear-powered car might look. The design did not include an internal-combustion engine, rather, the vehicle was to be powered by a small nuclear reactor in the rear of the vehicle, based on...

 was a theoretical nuclear powered concept car
Concept car
A concept vehicle or show vehicle is a car made to showcase new styling and or new technology. They are often shown at motor shows to gauge customer reaction to new and radical designs which may or may not have a chance of being produced....

 design proposed by the Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company is an American multinational automaker based in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. The automaker was founded by Henry Ford and incorporated on June 16, 1903. In addition to the Ford and Lincoln brands, Ford also owns a small stake in Mazda in Japan and Aston Martin in the UK...

 in 1958. In 2009, Loren Kulesus proposed a design to General Motors
General Motors
General Motors Company , commonly known as GM, formerly incorporated as General Motors Corporation, is an American multinational automotive corporation headquartered in Detroit, Michigan and the world's second-largest automaker in 2010...

 for a Cadillac
Cadillac is an American luxury vehicle marque owned by General Motors . Cadillac vehicles are sold in over 50 countries and territories, but mostly in North America. Cadillac is currently the second oldest American automobile manufacturer behind fellow GM marque Buick and is among the oldest...

 concept car powered by thorium
Thorium is a natural radioactive chemical element with the symbol Th and atomic number 90. It was discovered in 1828 and named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder....



Many types of nuclear propulsion have been proposed, and some of them (eg NERVA
NERVA is an acronym for Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application, a joint program of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and NASA managed by the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office until both the program and the office ended at the end of 1972....

) tested, for spacecraft applications:

Nuclear pulse propulsion

  • Project Orion
    Project Orion (nuclear propulsion)
    Project Orion was a study of a spacecraft intended to be directly propelled by a series of explosions of atomic bombs behind the craft...

    , first engineering design study of nuclear pulse (i.e., atomic explosion) propulsion
  • Project Daedalus
    Project Daedalus
    Project Daedalus was a study conducted between 1973 and 1978 by the British Interplanetary Society to design a plausible unmanned interstellar spacecraft. Intended mainly as a scientific probe, the design criteria specified that the spacecraft had to use current or near-future technology and had to...

    , 1970s British Interplanetary Society
    British Interplanetary Society
    The British Interplanetary Society founded in 1933 by Philip E. Cleator, is the oldest space advocacy organisation in the world whose aim is exclusively to support and promote astronautics and space exploration.-Structure:...

     study of a fusion rocket
  • Project Longshot
    Project Longshot
    Project Longshot was a conceptual design for an interstellar spacecraft, an unmanned probe intended to fly to Alpha Centauri powered by nuclear pulse propulsion. Developed by the US Naval Academy and NASA from 1987 to 1988, Longshot was designed to be built at Space Station Freedom, the precursor...

    , US Naval Academy-NASA nuclear pulse propulsion design

Nuclear thermal rocket

  • Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rockets conduct nuclear fission reactions similar to those safely employed at nuclear power plants including submarines. The energy is used to heat the liquid hydrogen propellant. Advocates of nuclear powered spacecraft point out that at the time of launch, there is almost no radiation released from the nuclear reactors. The nuclear-powered rockets are not used to lift off the Earth. Nuclear thermal rockets can provide great performance advantages compared to chemical propulsion systems. Nuclear power sources could also be used to provide the spacecraft with electrical power for operations and scientific instrumentation.
    NERVA is an acronym for Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application, a joint program of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and NASA managed by the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office until both the program and the office ended at the end of 1972....

     - NASA
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

    's Nuclear Energy for Rocket Vehicle Applications, a US nuclear thermal rocket program
  • Project Prometheus
    Project Prometheus
    Project Prometheus was established in 2003 by NASA to develop nuclear-powered systems for long-duration space missions. This was NASA's first serious foray into nuclear spacecraft propulsion since the cancellation of the NERVA project in 1972...

    , NASA development of nuclear propulsion for long-duration spaceflight, begun in 2003
  • Project Rover
    Project Rover
    Project Rover was an American project to develop a nuclear thermal rocket. The program ran at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory from 1955 through 1972 and involved the Atomic Energy Commission, and NASA. The project was managed by the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office.Nuclear reactors for the...

     - an American project to develop a nuclear thermal rocket. The program ran at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory from 1955 through 1972.

Direct nuclear

  • Fission-fragment rocket
    Fission-fragment rocket
    The fission-fragment rocket is a rocket engine design that directly harnesses hot nuclear fission products for thrust, as opposed to using a separate fluid as working mass...

  • Fission sail
    Fission sail
    The fission sail is a type of spacecraft propulsion proposed by Robert Forward that uses fission fragments to propel a large solar sail-like craft...

  • Fusion rocket
    Fusion rocket
    A fusion rocket is a theoretical design for a rocket driven by fusion power which could provide efficient and long-term acceleration in space without the need to carry a large fuel supply. The design relies on the development of fusion power technology beyond current capabilities, and the...

  • Gas core reactor rocket
    Gas core reactor rocket
    Gas core reactor rockets are a conceptual type of rocket that is propelled by the exhausted coolant of a gaseous fission reactor. The nuclear fission reactor core may be either a gas or plasma...

  • Nuclear salt-water rocket
    Nuclear salt-water rocket
    A nuclear salt-water rocket is a proposed type of nuclear thermal rocket designed by Robert Zubrin that would be fueled by water bearing dissolved salts of Plutonium or U235...

  • Radioisotope rocket
    Radioisotope rocket
    The radioisotope rocket is a type of rocket engine that uses the heat generated by the decay of radioactive elements to heat a working fluid, which is then exhausted through a rocket nozzle to produce thrust...

  • Nuclear photonic rocket
    Nuclear photonic rocket
    In a nuclear photonic rocket, a nuclear reactor would generate such high temperatures that the blackbody radiation from the reactor would provide significant thrust. The disadvantage is that it takes a lot of power to generate a small amount of thrust this way, so acceleration is very slow. The...

RKA (Russian Federal Space Agency) NPS Development

Anatolij Perminov, head of Russian Space Agency announced that RKA is going to develop a nuclear powered spacecraft for deep space travel. Design will be done by 2012, and 9 more years for development (in space assembly). The price is set to 17 billion rubles (600 million dollars).
The nuclear propulsion would have mega-watt class, provided necessary funding, Roscosmos Head stated.
According to him, the propulsion will be able to support human mission to Mars, with cosmonauts staying on the Red planet for 30 days. The journey to Mars is with nuclear propulsion with steady accelaration would take 6 weeks instead of 8 Month with chemical propulsion. The thrust would be 300 times higher than the chemical thrust.

See also

  • Project Pluto
    Project Pluto
    Project Pluto was a United States government program to develop nuclear powered ramjet engines for use in cruise missiles. Two experimental engines were tested at the United States Department of Energy Nevada Test Site in 1961 and 1964.-History:...

    , which developed an unmanned cruise missile
    Cruise missile
    A cruise missile is a guided missile that carries an explosive payload and is propelled, usually by a jet engine, towards a land-based or sea-based target. Cruise missiles are designed to deliver a large warhead over long distances with high accuracy...

     that used a nuclear powered ramjet for propulsion.

  • Nuclear aircraft
    Nuclear aircraft
    A nuclear aircraft is an aircraft powered by nuclear energy. Research into them was pursued during the Cold War by the United States and the Soviet Union as they would presumably allow a country to keep nuclear bombers in the air for extremely long periods of time, a useful tactic for nuclear...

     - General Electric
    General Electric
    General Electric Company , or GE, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in Schenectady, New York and headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States...

    's cold war
    Cold War
    The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

     project to build a nuclear powered bomber.

  • Robert W. Bussard
    Robert W. Bussard
    Robert W. Bussard was an American physicist who worked primarily in nuclear fusion energy research. He was the recipient of the Schreiber-Spence Achievement Award for STAIF-2004. He was also a fellow of the International Academy of Astronautics and held a Ph.D...

    - a pioneer of nuclear space propulsion.

External links

} RKA home page in Russian
} 2006-2015 RKA Fundamental Space Research Program
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