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Powering Space: Lasers Beaming Power to Satellites and Nuclear Space Reactors

Nuclear-Space-Propulsion

 

According to this article, the Russians are working on a way to beam power to satellites.  My immediate thought is that it will also help with the possibility of beaming power to deep space probes and possibly even manned missions at some point.  Of equal interest was the brief mention of the rarely mentioned Russian program for building a new space-based nuclear reactor.  This has been mentioned a few times in reports over the past few years and would be a huge step towards deep space manned missions so let’s hope it’s on track.

The design for the system to beam power to satellites, which will use lasers, is from KB Arsenal, the same company that built a space nuclear reactor for the USSR in the 1980s.  Nuclear reactors were tested by both the US and Soviet Union on spacecraft, but the USSR program got much further than the US’s program, with over 30 such missions.   That reactor, the Topaz-1, was tested on two satellites in the late ‘80s

Russian Space Reactor Topaz-1
The Topaz-1 space reactor. © A. Solomonov / Sputnik

America is not sitting on the side lines when it comes to nuclear power in space. NASA is funding a nuclear space reactor being developed BWXT Nuclear Energy.  This is the same company that currently supplies fuel to the US Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and subs.  The reactor they are designing uses currently available technology so, not having to depend on technological breakthroughs, it should be able to be developed relatively quickly.

Thinking further down the road, NASA is providing funding for Princeton Satellite Systems, a company working on a small fusion reactor for space propulsion that would be a real game changer.  But this system would need quantities of Helium-3 for power so fusion space reactors will need to wait until we’re able to mine Helium-3 on the Moon.

 

 

 

 

 

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