Russia wants to send nuclear-powered probe to Jupiter

The Zeus module, whose electric motor is powered by a mini nuclear reactor, will be used to operate the probe for very long missions. An attractive technique on paper but which has already failed in its implementation on many occasions.

It is an old idea that Russians have just come out Manifesto : An interplanetary mission with a probe powered by nuclear power. Russian space agency Roskosmos announced on 22 May the launch of its Zeus module by 2030; The latter will travel The moon, Then Venus And finally Jupiter and its satellites. The mission, scheduled for the last 50 months, should begin by 2030. Zeus should be equipped with a 500 kW “mini nuclear reactor” (20,000 times less than a terrestrial nuclear reactor) capable of carrying 22 satellites. Ton, according to Sputnik Agency. It will be launched from the Vostochan base in southeastern Siberia Launcher Angara-A5V

A nuclear tug and an orbital station powered by nuclear power

This mission will be the first application The concrete form of the nuclear module project, named TEM, and for which a contract of 4.17 billion rubles (46.5 million euros) was signed with Roskosmos last December. In 2019, the agency had already submitted Model of a space tug Operated with TEM modules for the purpose of installing satellites To revolve around. Roscosmos was also working at a station Of class Equipped with Zeus module, according to artificial satellite.

This is not the first time Russia has turned toEnergy Atoms for Space Exploration. Between 1970 and 1988, the USSR launched 32 nuclear-powered satellites. Missions did not always succeed, particularly as a result of the Cosmos 954 satellite malfunction. The result of radioactive debris over Canada In 1977. The latter was powered by a nuclear reactor containing approximately 50 kg of uranium 235.

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Some details have not yet been filtered on the exact technology used by Zeus. Unlike the Rockets Nuclear thermal, where Warmth Issued by nuclear reaction Used directly to heat the fluid that supplies the rocket’s propulsion, it would be a question here to convert nuclear power into electricity, batteries or solar panels to run a satellite. Advantage is a long-term energy source, which is not dependent on solar exposure and is thus able to operate in hidden areas. Soleil. Nuclear propulsion will also make it possible to carry out long missions, with the Zeus reactor planned to last 10 to 12 years.

Nuclear power, 50 years old idea

In France, the CEA also conducted substantial studies on nuclear power propulsion or NEP (NEP).Nuclear power propulsion) In the 1980s with a project called Erato. NASA also envisaged a mission to Jupiter’s moons called JIMO (Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter), Where the probe could have increased the displacement and orbit changes manifold thanks to its large energy reserves (see below). The Jimo mission was eventually abandoned in June 2005 for budgetary reasons. The idea was recently relaunched in 2019. A mission to mars, Which a. Will be operated by Ion engine. Will the next decade be true for nuclear space?

Nuclear propulsion on the way to Jupiter?

French-science article published on x02 / 01/2004

Since last February, a team of 38 researchers has been working in collaboration with NASA on the use of nuclear propulsion as part of an interplanetary journey toward Jupiter.

JIMO Project for Jupiter IC Moons Orbiter, Foreboding To ionize a nuclear reactor a The gas Which is estimated to be very large Speed.
Such a process was tested on Deep Space 1 in 1998 but with a conventional engine. If finalized, for the most optimistic by 2011, the new probe will be equipped with a 10 times more powerful engine and Its electric potential will give it enoughSwaraj To find out many Jovian satellites.

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It can also carry power hungry devices like ground penetrating radar.
But this idea raises some apprehensions on behalf of organizations such as the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. It reminds me thatOne out of ten rocket launches fail; In the event of a setback, what will be the impact on the environment?

NASA engineers for their part say that The nuclear reactor will be activated in orbit only once and radioactive elements such as fuel will be protected from the launcher to withstand the explosion..

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