By 2030, Russia plans to launch Zeus, a nuclear-powered spacecraft, on a voyage of 50 months. (over four years) Notably, engineers began developing Zeus back in 2010 and are on track to realize their goal of sending it to orbit within two decades.
Zeus is called a “space tug,” capable of hauling large cargo and astronauts. According to a state-owned news outlet, it may weigh 22 tons and produce 500-kilowatt energy.
First, Zeus will travel to the Moon, deploying a smaller spacecraft. Then, it will head to Venus, where it will deploy another spacecraft. Using Venus’s gravity, the ship will propel its way to Jupiter and one of its moons, reports state-owned news media, Tass News Agency.
According to Futurism, a separate nuclear-powered space tug called “Nuklon” may be complete by July 2024, costing over $56.7 million.
Also, by 2025, Russia plans to develop a new space station, cutting ties with the International Space Station, reports Business Insider.
Thus, it’s a longtime international partnership of over 23 years will come to an end.
Additionally, Russia plans to land a probe on the south pole of the Moon by the end of this year, reports Futurism.
Zeus in Space
In the past, Russia launched over 30 reactors into space. However, Zeus could be far more powerful, a 500-kilowatt nuclear reactor. Today, engineers from Roscosmos and the Russian Academy of Sciences are calculating how much cargo Zeus could carry.
Possibly, Zeus will have power for over a decade. It will travel faster in the cold void of space with nuclear power, where solar-powered vehicles would struggle. According to NASA, nuclear-powered spacecraft could arrive on Mars in two years, a year faster than with existing technologies.
Although it may not go past Jupiter, Zeus could serve as a mobile power source for future spacecraft taking longer journeys.
On the other hand, if highly enriched uranium is used, it could prove dangerous. Thus, the US prohibited such uranium use, preferring non-nuclear sources where possible.
See the preliminary design for Zeus below from The Huffington Post (French):
US Nuclear Power Plant on the Moon?
Meanwhile, the US plans to place a nuclear power plant on the Moon by 2027 and eventually Mars.
If successful, the plant will provide power to establish outposts on the Moon or Mars.
“The proposal is for a fission surface power system, and the goal is to have a flight system, lander, and reactor ready to launch by 2026,” reported CNBC.
First, NASA’s Anthony Calomino said the power system would be manufactured and assembled on Earth. Then, it would undergo safety testing. Finally, it would be readied for launch inside a lunar lander.
According to the preliminary plans, the plant would use 10 kilowatts of electrical power for around ten years. Notably, that would be the rough equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power five to eight large households.
“Four units, providing 10 kilowatts of electrical power each, would provide enough power to establish an outpost on the Moon or Mars,” said Calomino. “The ability to produce large amounts of electrical power on planetary surfaces using a fission surface power system would enable large-scale exploration, establishment of human outposts, and utilization of in situ resources while allowing for the possibility of commercialization.”
Dawn of the Nuclear-Powered Space Age?
To power the nuclear core, the engineers proposed a low enriched form of nuclear fuel. However, some experts have recommended solar photovoltaics technology, suggesting nuclear options may have catastrophic risks.
On the other hand, others have noted the first nuclear electrical power system went to the Moon aboard Apollo 12 in November 1969.
According to Dr. Jose Morey, chief medical innovation officer at Liberty BioSecurity, the Earth’s atmosphere would protect us from radiation should there be an incident on the Moon.
“Nuclear energy has always been a very clean form of energy and extremely effective,” said Morey. “Realistically, it will be pivotal to deep space exploration, and more importantly, to humanity becoming a multi-planetary species. This new dawn of space exploration will see a resurgence in the nuclear industry until the next form of efficient, clean energy is discovered.”
Thus, it appears that unless a new form of clean energy is developed quickly, we may be entering a new dawn of nuclear-powered spacecraft.
See more about Nuclear rockets in space from Curious Droid:
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube