Nuclear propulsion

Nuclear propulsion

Nuclear propulsion includes a wide variety of propulsion methods that fulfil the promise of the Atomic Age by using some form of nuclear reaction as their primary power source.


Surface ships and submarines

Many military submarines, aircraft carriers and, owing to crude oil prices and emissions, a growing number of large civilian surface ships[citation needed], especially icebreakers, use nuclear reactors as their power plants.


The Ford Nucleon was a theoretical nuclear powered concept car design proposed by the Ford Motor Company in 1958. In 2009, Loren Kulesus proposed a design to General Motors for a Cadillac concept car powered by thorium.[1][2]



Many types of nuclear propulsion have been proposed, and some of them (eg NERVA) tested, for spacecraft applications:

Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rockets - conduct nuclear fission reactions similar to those employed at nuclear power plants including submarines. The energy is used to heat the liquid hydrogen propellant. Courtesy of NASA Glenn Research Center

Nuclear pulse propulsion

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.[3]
  • NERVA - NASA's Nuclear Energy for Rocket Vehicle Applications, a US nuclear thermal rocket program
  • Project Prometheus, NASA development of nuclear propulsion for long-duration spaceflight, begun in 2003
  • Project Rover - an American project to develop a nuclear thermal rocket. The program ran at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory from 1955 through 1972.


Direct nuclear

Nuclear electric

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).[4] 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. [5] [6]

See also


  • Bussard, R; DeLauer, R (1958). Nuclear Rocket Propulsion. McGraw-Hill 
  • Bussard, R (1965). Fundamentals of Nuclear Flight. McGraw-Hill 


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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