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 numerous occasions.

It’s an old idea that the Russians just came up with Manifesto : An interplanetary mission with a probe powered by nuclear energy. The Russian space agency Roskosmos announced on May 22 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 “mini nuclear reactor” of 500 kW (20,000 times less than a terrestrial nuclear reactor) capable of carrying 22 satellites. Your, according to Sputnik Agency. It will be launched from the Vostochan base in Southeast Siberia Launcher Angara-A5V

A nuclear tug and an orbital station powered by nuclear energy

This mission will be the first application The concrete form of the nuclear module project, called TEM, 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 turn around. Roscosmos also worked in a train station Class Equipped with the Zeus module, according to artificial satellite.

This is not the first time that Russia has turned toEnergy Atoms for space exploration. Between 1970 and 1988, the USSR launched 32 nuclear-powered satellites. The missions were not always successful, in particular due to the malfunction of the Cosmos 954 satellite. The result of radioactive debris over Canada In 1977. The latter was powered by a nuclear reactor containing about 50 kg of uranium 235.

Some details have yet to be filtered out on the exact technology used by Zeus. Contrary to Rockets Thermal nuclear power, where Heat Issued by nuclear reaction Used directly to heat the fluid that powers the rocket propulsion, this would be to convert nuclear energy into electricity, batteries or solar panels to operate a satellite. Advantage is a long-term energy source, which does not depend on solar exposure and is therefore able to operate in hidden areas. Sun. Nuclear propulsion will also make it possible to carry out long missions, the Zeus reactor being planned for a period of 10 to 12 years.

Nuclear power, a 50-year-old idea

In France, the CEA has also carried out substantial studies on nuclear propulsion or NEP (NEP).Nuclear propulsion) In the 1980s with a project called Erato. NASA has also considered a mission to the moons of Jupiter called JIMO (Jupiter’s Frigid Moons Orbiter), Where the probe could have increased displacement and the orbit changes multiple thanks to its large energy reserves (see below). The Jimo mission was finally abandoned in June 2005 for budgetary reasons. The idea was recently revived in 2019. A mission to Mars, Who has. Will be operated by Ionic engine. Will the next decade be true for nuclear space?

Nuclear power on the way to Jupiter?

Franco-scientific article published on 01/02/2004

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 to Jupiter.

JIMO project for Jupiter IC Moons Orbit, Disturbing To ionize a nuclear reactor a The gas What is considered to be very important 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 an engine 10 times more powerful and Its electrical potential will give it enoughSwaraj To discover many Jovian satellites.

It can also carry power-hungry devices like ground-penetrating radar.
But this idea raises some misgivings on the part of organizations such as the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Energy in Space. It reminds me thatOne in ten rocket launches fail; In case of decline, what will be the impact on the environment?

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

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