Get ready for a nuclear-powered spacecraft—maybe! The Russian Federal Space Agency says that it will hold talks with Nasa and a number of countries on April 15 to see if they can’t get started on creating a “nuclear engine” by 2012. Such an engine, it’s believed, would only cost around $600m to develop.
There’s a few issues here, and the first is the expectation that people will freak out upon hearing “nuclear-powered spacecraft,” particularly after what’s happened in Japan these past few weeks. Odds are we won’t be able to travel to far-off world using currently available engines, so if we’re serious about getting off this planet—let’s not forget Stephen Hawking’s warning—we’re going to have to seriously think about bigger, more powerful engines.
Whether or not the engine being proposed by Russia will be used for propulsion or merely to generate electricity is unclear.
What is clear, however, is that Nasa isn’t exactly hurting for nuclear engine designs. It’s just a matter of sorting out the funding, and possibly trying to calm the nerves of the public.