July 01, 2007
Nuclear Rocket Proposed For Moon Return

Steven Howe, director of Idaho National Laboratory's Center for Space Nuclear Research, says a nuclear upper stage rocket could carry cargo from Earth's orbit to the moon more cheaply than a chemical rocket.

Howe envisions using a nuclear engine similar to one designed and tested in the 1960s called Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA). In the NASA-funded NERVA design, hydrogen gas is heated by nuclear reactions in a uranium reactor and expelled to produce thrust.

The higher efficiency of such an engine means almost 29 tonnes of cargo could be delivered to the Moon in a single Ares V launch, compared to 21 tonnes with the non-nuclear version. This would allow a 250-tonne lunar base to be constructed with only nine rather than 12 Ares V launches, Howe says..

Howe estimates that even with the added costs of developing the nuclear rocket that the total cost savings would be $1.5 to $2 billion. Of course, once the rocket gets designed and built and pays back its cost on the initial moon trips the cost savings would be even greater for additional trips to the moon or elsewhere.

Chemical rockets are a dead end. The chemicals weigh too much for the amount of energy they contain. To lower space travel costs we need to move beyond chemical rockets. Nuclear designs could work outside of Earth's atmosphere. If the US government wants to seriously pursue space exploration then nuclear designs warrant serious consideration.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 July 01 03:24 PM  Space Exploration

David Mathews said at July 2, 2007 2:11 PM:

If chemical rockets are a dead end (and they are) then nuclear rockets are DOA. I guess we aren't going to the moon after all ...

Brett Bellmore said at July 2, 2007 5:27 PM:

Chemical rockets are rendered infeasible by the laws of physics, nuclear rockets by the laws of politics. The latter are just a tad easier to challenge, I'd say. In fact, I'd venture to say that the political class is more afraid of nuclear rocketry than the public, at this point; They don't consider the space program to be worth making any effort to overcome the alarmists.

I'd also say that their proposed use of nuclear propulsion, requiring actually achieving orbit before the nuclear rocket is utilized, is remarkably conservative. The less chemical rocketry involved, the bigger the gain; They ought to switch over as soon as the atmosphere is cleared. Indeed, if you did that, an air breathing first stage would almost certainly be feasible, WITHOUT resort to hypersonic scramjets, or any other bleeding edge technology.

morpheus said at July 4, 2007 4:43 PM:


i would sugest using the antigravity tech the shadow gov has been hiding for 50 years,

see just just one of the recent exemples in the CARET DRONES, recently showing up


video presentation also


Brian Wang said at July 5, 2007 9:09 AM:

I support the development of nuclear propulsion capabilities since they would be significant improvements over what we currently are using. Going the more inefficient route of using the nuclear power after clearing the atmosphere seems necessary to gain the initial confidence in the tech before using them for ground launch.

I am not confident that return to the moon proposal will be fully funded.
As described at this link

The current program is warped by political needs.

The delays in the program may force more reliance on the private launch industry. This could be a long term bonus if the commercial entities are better able to develop lower cost launch capabilities.

George C said at July 10, 2007 5:43 AM:

People who advocate nuclear rockets are like Libertarians. Libertarians want to end the tax code, eliminate Social Security and allow drug use. They have about as much chance of getting their agenda passed as a law that makes the United States an officially athiest nation. As for NASA, the biggest applause line a politician can get on the hustings is "and we need to stop wasting money on space travel and deal with our problems at home". First of all, we ARE NOT going back to the Moon. Congress has told NASA that another Moon landing won't be funded and to go out and get private capital to pay for it. So if you know anyone who has $130 billion lying around that they don't need back anytime soon, please let NASA know. Since there is no profit motive in going to the moon, we won't be going to the moon. Finally, congress is never going to pass a bill with the words "nuclear" and "space flight" in it. So you can forget that. This guy would be better off spending his time on things that are POSSIBLE to accomplish with Congress.

TheBaldGuy said at July 12, 2007 1:51 PM:


Funny, we already have nuclear material going into space. 130 Billion? I knew the Moon was not the cheaper options, but Mars takes less than 30B over a decade. NASA isn't going because the PTB at NASA don't want to. NASA's budget is over 120B/year last I looked. Spending 3B/year for a decade is doable, if they wanted to. And I'm glad NASA doesn't want to go because I think they shouldn't. Let private enterprise do it. It'll cost less and we'll get more out of it.

They have about as much chance of getting their agenda passed as a law that makes the United States an officially athiest nation.

And not that long ago the then-radical "rabid socialists" and "rabid-commies" had the same thing said about them. Over time radical ideas tend to become less radical. Several of the planks of the CP have been enacted, and today are defended with much vigor. Things like "Free public education" and combining that with "industry" and the removal of children from the labor pool. Historically children with jobs were a boost to the family. But removal of this option changes the economics of the poor - it serves to keep them there. The Federal reserve - a centralized bank. Equality of Labor - how about the Federal Labor laws setting work weeks, hours, etc.?

It was not very long ago that these positions were railed against as harshly if not more so than positions such as ending SS, and going back to drugs being a matter of personal responsibility, or back to the lack of an income tax. Yet today, these are harshly defended positions. I'm not saying it will happen, but history shows it is not uncommon (the US is just one example).

Randall Parker said at July 13, 2007 8:09 PM:


NASA's budget is about $17 billion give or take a few hundred million. A Mars mission might run up to $120 billion.

It is incredibly easy to dig up real facts with a search engine. Try it next time.

poo brown said at September 11, 2007 9:17 PM:

lol. real facts from a search engine. thats a good one

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright