Orion space battleships could still be built in a nuclear space race

Nuclear bomb powered spaceships are technically feasible and could be built. The mass of the spaceships would have been like the submarines, destroyers and aircraft carriers of today. 200-1000 ton spaceships would have been the small versions and 1,500 to 100,000-ton military nuclear ships would have been possible. Propulsion would have used shaped nuclear explosions. The blast of nuclear bombs can be shaped. This has been researched by the USA over the decades. Narrowing the shaped explosions further would have enabled single shot super-powerful plasma blasts.

Scott Lowther and Winchell D. Chung at Project Rho performed detailed research on the shaped charges of Project Orion and the Casaba Howitzer project.

The Casaba Howitzer was a project to develop shaped nuclear blasts as plasma weapons.

In the 1960s, Project Orion was a major effort to use nuclear bombs to propel a massive spaceship. Researchers had found that a massive metal plate could survive a nuclear blast and the plate could be accelerated to very high speeds.

Exploding a bomb 25 meters away would only use 1% of the energy of the explosion.

If the nuclear device is encased in a radiation case of x-ray opaque material (uranium) with a hole in the top. This forces the x-rays to to exit only from the hole. Whereupon they run full tilt into a large mass of beryllium oxide (channel filler).

The beryllium transforms the nuclear fury of x-rays into a nuclear fury of heat. Perched on top of the beryllium is the propellant: a thick plate of tungsten. The nuclear fury of heat turns the tungsten plate into a star-core-hot spindle-shaped-plume of ionized tungsten plasma. The x-ray opaque material and the beryllium oxide also vaporize a few microseconds later.

The tungsten plasma jet hits square on the Orion drive pusher plate. The plate is designed to be large enough to catch all of the plasma. With the reference design of nuclear pulse unit, the plume is confined to a cone of about 22.5 degrees. About 85% of the nuclear device’s energy is directed into the desired direction instead of 1%.

Each charge accelerates the spacecraft by roughly 12 m/s. A 4,000 ton spacecraft would use 5 kiloton charges, and a 10,000 ton spacecraft would use 15 kiloton charges. For blast-off, smaller charges of 0.15 kt and 0.35 kt respectively would be used while within the Terra’s atmosphere. The air between the charge and the pusher plate amplifies the impulse delivered, so if you are not in airless space you can get away with a smaller kt yield.

More focused nuclear charge is a plasma beam weapon – Casaba Howitzer

The Casaba Howitzer was the result of research into reducing the spread of the particles produced by a nuclear pulse unit. Make the cone narrow enough and it becomes a destructive beam.

A Casaba Howitzer charge is about 115 kg and 0.14 m3, with a probable yield of 5 kilotons.

The original nuclear shaped charge design called for the use of a tungsten plate. The particles would be relatively slow (between 10 and 100km/s depending on thrust requirements) and rather cool (14000°C in transit, 67000°C after hitting the plate).

Using lighter elements, such as plastics or even hydrogen, in a thick and narrow instead of wide and flat shape, you can achieve a very narrow cone and very high particle velocities.

In 1990, a

Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.

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78 thoughts on “Orion space battleships could still be built in a nuclear space race”

  1. Could use it to break up harmful near earth asteroids. Mask it as a saviour use it as a weapon. Or space travel. If used for space travel, nose section would have to look different.

    Reply
  2. The problem with abrogating (or even altering the terms of) the Space Treaty is that it opens a potential can of worms. I lived through the ’60s where the possibility of people putting nuclear weapons platforms in orbit (remember all the satellites that Floyd passed on his way to the space station in “2001”, which debuted in 1968?, All of those were supposed to be bomb platforms.) was a big driver of the Space Treaty. . The big problem with orbital bomb platforms is their vulnerability in orbit combined with short time of flight for the nukes sets up a nasty incentive to nuke the other guy before getting nuked yourself). The ability to fly an Orion is nice, but IMO not worth potentially opening up a nuclear arms race in space. The risk/reward just isn’t there. If you have suggestions for how to alter the Treaty in a way that doesn’t open up that possibility, I’m all ears.

    Reply
  3. The problem with abrogating (or even altering the terms of) the Space Treaty is that it opens a potential can of worms. I lived through the ’60s where the possibility of people putting nuclear weapons platforms in orbit (remember all the satellites that Floyd passed on his way to the space station in 2001″”” which debuted in 1968? All of those were supposed to be bomb platforms.) was a big driver of the Space Treaty. . The big problem with orbital bomb platforms is their vulnerability in orbit combined with short time of flight for the nukes sets up a nasty incentive to nuke the other guy before getting nuked yourself). The ability to fly an Orion is nice but IMO not worth potentially opening up a nuclear arms race in space. The risk/reward just isn’t there. If you have suggestions for how to alter the Treaty in a way that doesn’t open up that possibility”” I’m all ears.”””

    Reply
  4. The problem with abrogating (or even altering the terms of) the Space Treaty is that it opens a potential can of worms. I lived through the ’60s where the possibility of people putting nuclear weapons platforms in orbit (remember all the satellites that Floyd passed on his way to the space station in “2001”, which debuted in 1968?, All of those were supposed to be bomb platforms.) was a big driver of the Space Treaty. . The big problem with orbital bomb platforms is their vulnerability in orbit combined with short time of flight for the nukes sets up a nasty incentive to nuke the other guy before getting nuked yourself). The ability to fly an Orion is nice, but IMO not worth potentially opening up a nuclear arms race in space. The risk/reward just isn’t there. If you have suggestions for how to alter the Treaty in a way that doesn’t open up that possibility, I’m all ears.

    Reply
  5. The later books, as I said, aren’t worth it. The author wasn’t disciplined enough and so kept increasing the ability/tech/personal accomplishments with every story, eventually ending up with settings and characters that didn’t work.

    Reply
  6. The later books as I said aren’t worth it. The author wasn’t disciplined enough and so kept increasing the ability/tech/personal accomplishments with every story eventually ending up with settings and characters that didn’t work.

    Reply
  7. For space battleship conflict, the best SF I’ve read in this is the early Honor Harrington space opera. The battle scenes are all about the existing momentum of the opposing fleets, and how acceleration and velocity interact to control the battle space. Then the author tweaks the various acceleration, speeds, weapon ranges and sensor abilities to make the entire battle isomorphic to a Napoleonic era naval battle. But scaled up by a factor of about 10 million. I though the final result was very clever. Later in the series it falls apart, as the heroine of the story turns into a Mary Sue, the weapons specification grows with every book until the isomorphism with age of sail gets stretched to breaking point, and the eternal desire to have each succeeding event bigger and better than the previous broke the system.

    Reply
  8. For space battleship conflict the best SF I’ve read in this is the early Honor Harrington space opera. The battle scenes are all about the existing momentum of the opposing fleets and how acceleration and velocity interact to control the battle space.Then the author tweaks the various acceleration speeds weapon ranges and sensor abilities to make the entire battle isomorphic to a Napoleonic era naval battle. But scaled up by a factor of about 10 million.I though the final result was very clever.Later in the series it falls apart as the heroine of the story turns into a Mary Sue the weapons specification grows with every book until the isomorphism with age of sail gets stretched to breaking point and the eternal desire to have each succeeding event bigger and better than the previous broke the system.

    Reply
  9. If you look at the calculated numbers then yes, it really does give enormously more performance than nuclear heated water. Numbers like 2% or 10% of light speed were being calculated.

    Reply
  10. If you look at the calculated numbers then yes it really does give enormously more performance than nuclear heated water.Numbers like 2{22800fc54956079738b58e74e4dcd846757aa319aad70fcf90c97a58f3119a12} or 10{22800fc54956079738b58e74e4dcd846757aa319aad70fcf90c97a58f3119a12} of light speed were being calculated.

    Reply
  11. Why are we even talking about this? Other than the waste of taxpayer resources for the pretty pictures, nothing will ever come of it. Just look at the SLS. Can you say boondoggle? Sure, I knew you could.

    Reply
  12. Why are we even talking about this? Other than the waste of taxpayer resources for the pretty pictures nothing will ever come of it. Just look at the SLS. Can you say boondoggle? Sure I knew you could.

    Reply
  13. The later books, as I said, aren’t worth it. The author wasn’t disciplined enough and so kept increasing the ability/tech/personal accomplishments with every story, eventually ending up with settings and characters that didn’t work.

    Reply
  14. I wonder if space-deployed casaba howitzers count as WMDs by the OST. The blast is uses to generate a beam weapon instead of being used as the weapon effect itself. I think this is why X-ray lasers induced by shaped charged nukes in SDI satellites were proposed as well.

    Reply
  15. I wonder if space-deployed casaba howitzers count as WMDs by the OST. The blast is uses to generate a beam weapon instead of being used as the weapon effect itself.I think this is why X-ray lasers induced by shaped charged nukes in SDI satellites were proposed as well.

    Reply
  16. Way cool but major crazy! If the aliens are invading from space this is the kind of craft you build to fight them but otherwise the amount of fallout from launching a fleet of these is equal to that a medium sized regional nuclear war!

    Reply
  17. Way cool but major crazy! If the aliens are invading from space this is the kind of craft you build to fight them but otherwise the amount of fallout from launching a fleet of these is equal to that a medium sized regional nuclear war!

    Reply
  18. Is this really that much more powerful than venting reactor and rf heated water plasma? Making thousands of bombs seems like a logistical nightmare. It seems we alreadh have more viable approaches.

    Reply
  19. Is this really that much more powerful than venting reactor and rf heated water plasma? Making thousands of bombs seems like a logistical nightmare.It seems we alreadh have more viable approaches.

    Reply
  20. Yep, sort of. I think the experiments done in the 1950s turned up the fact that neutron reflector materials significantly reduce the size of the critical mass for a conventional implosion-type fission warhead, while simultaneously increasing yield. putting a Jelly Belly sized sphere of LiD2 in the center increases the minimum critical mass a bit (about ⊕1 kg), but at the same time multiplies yield 15× or more. Let’s not forget the lessons of Castle Bravo (“The Big Mistake… 15 megatons worth”) But yes. I think the idea of there being “nuclear battleships” is high fiction: those who talk this up — even the sober, conservatıve types — tend to conflate most-any space ‘thing’ with Star Trek or Star Wars… jetting around without the consequence of acceleration-to-change-velocity-vectors. “270° to starboard, lieutenant!!” and all that. The real issue in space is that you MUST “go fast” to go most anywhere; that to “go fast” requires substantial acceleration over substantial time. That once you’re “going fast”, it takes more SUBSTANTIAL time and acceleration to zing off in another direction. And that unlike having a rudder on a battleship, there’s nothing to push against for significant course adjustments … except … more reaction-mass emissions AKA “rocket propulsion”. Doesn’t matter whether we’re talking chemical or nuclear propulsion. Bombs or mono-propellants. Its all exactly the same. Time… seconds, hours, days, months Energy… ½mv², joules Power… dE/dt, watts, kilotons Accleeration… Tsiolkovsky’s equation Velocity… Ma, m/s, kilometers/sec Trigonometry… cos, sin, tan, sec, cot, sinh, cosh… Inertia… Mv Mass… kilograms, tons, dM/dt Time… time, time, time, time and time. Just saying. GoatGuy

    Reply
  21. Yep sort of. I think the experiments done in the 1950s turned up the fact that neutron reflector materials significantly reduce the size of the critical mass for a conventional implosion-type fission warhead while simultaneously increasing yield. putting a Jelly Belly sized sphere of LiD2 in the center increases the minimum critical mass a bit (about ⊕1 kg) but at the same time multiplies yield 15× or more. Let’s not forget the lessons of Castle Bravo (The Big Mistake… 15 megatons worth””)But yes.I think the idea of there being “”””nuclear battleships”””” is high fiction: those who talk this up — even the sober”””” conservatıve types — tend to conflate most-any space ‘thing’ with Star Trek or Star Wars… jetting around without the consequence of acceleration-to-change-velocity-vectors. “”””270° to starboard”””” lieutenant!!”””” and all that.The real issue in space is that you MUST “”””go fast”””” to go most anywhere; that to “”””go fast”””” requires substantial acceleration over substantial time. That once you’re “”””going fast”””””” it takes more SUBSTANTIAL time and acceleration to zing off in another direction. And that unlike having a rudder on a battleship”” there’s nothing to push against for significant course adjustments … except … more reaction-mass emissions AKA “”””rocket propulsion””””. Doesn’t matter whether we’re talking chemical or nuclear propulsion. Bombs or mono-propellants. Its all exactly the same. Time… seconds”” hours days monthsEnergy… ½mv² joulesPower… dE/dt watts kilotonsAccleeration… Tsiolkovsky’s equationVelocity… Ma m/s kilometers/secTrigonometry… cos sin tan sec cot sinh cosh… Inertia… MvMass… kilograms tons dM/dtTime… time time time”” time and time.Just saying.GoatGuy”””””””

    Reply
  22. For space battleship conflict, the best SF I’ve read in this is the early Honor Harrington space opera. The battle scenes are all about the existing momentum of the opposing fleets, and how acceleration and velocity interact to control the battle space.

    Then the author tweaks the various acceleration, speeds, weapon ranges and sensor abilities to make the entire battle isomorphic to a Napoleonic era naval battle. But scaled up by a factor of about 10 million.

    I though the final result was very clever.

    Later in the series it falls apart, as the heroine of the story turns into a Mary Sue, the weapons specification grows with every book until the isomorphism with age of sail gets stretched to breaking point, and the eternal desire to have each succeeding event bigger and better than the previous broke the system.

    Reply
  23. If you look at the calculated numbers then yes, it really does give enormously more performance than nuclear heated water.
    Numbers like 2% or 10% of light speed were being calculated.

    Reply
  24. It’s easy to square this with the Treaty – you either amend it or withdraw. The first would be preferable, but more difficult. The second is unilateral. Now under US law, could the Senate have standing to sue if an Administration issued a notice to withdraw? Hard to say, the treaty is US law as you say; but it includes a mechanism to withdraw without binding the signatory states governments on how to exercise that mechanism. My opinion, based on the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002; is that an Administration can withdraw without consent from the Senate. Excerpts from the Space Treaty below, copied from the UN web site Article XV Any State Party to the Treaty may propose amendments to this Treaty. Amendments shall enter into force for each State Party to the Treaty accepting the amendments upon their acceptance by a majority of the States Parties to the Treaty and thereafter for each remaining State Party to the Treaty on the date of acceptance by it. Article XVI Any State Party to the Treaty may give notice of its withdrawal from the Treaty one year after its entry into force by written notification to the Depositary Governments. Such withdrawal shall take effect one year from the date of receipt of this notification.

    Reply
  25. It’s easy to square this with the Treaty – you either amend it or withdraw. The first would be preferable but more difficult. The second is unilateral. Now under US law could the Senate have standing to sue if an Administration issued a notice to withdraw? Hard to say the treaty is US law as you say; but it includes a mechanism to withdraw without binding the signatory states governments on how to exercise that mechanism. My opinion based on the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002; is that an Administration can withdraw without consent from the Senate.Excerpts from the Space Treaty below copied from the UN web site Article XV Any State Party to the Treaty may propose amendments to this Treaty. Amendments shall enter into force for each State Party to the Treaty accepting the amendments upon their acceptance by a majority of the States Parties to the Treaty and thereafter for each remaining State Party to the Treaty on the date of acceptance by it. Article XVI Any State Party to the Treaty may give notice of its withdrawal from the Treaty one year after its entry into force by written notification to the Depositary Governments. Such withdrawal shall take effect one year from the date of receipt of this notification.

    Reply
  26. Why are we even talking about this? Other than the waste of taxpayer resources for the pretty pictures, nothing will ever come of it. Just look at the SLS. Can you say boondoggle? Sure, I knew you could.

    Reply
  27. I wonder if space-deployed casaba howitzers count as WMDs by the OST. The blast is uses to generate a beam weapon instead of being used as the weapon effect itself.

    I think this is why X-ray lasers induced by shaped charged nukes in SDI satellites were proposed as well.

    Reply
  28. Way cool but major crazy! If the aliens are invading from space this is the kind of craft you build to fight them but otherwise the amount of fallout from launching a fleet of these is equal to that a medium sized regional nuclear war!

    Reply
  29. While I do want to know what happened in 1990, but I’m even more curious about a couple of other things. What part of Earth is going to volunteer to be repeatedly nuked, even if they are only “small” nukes (150-350 tons of TNT equivalent), to be the launching point of the Orion? The other thing I want to know is how to square this with the Space Treaty, which bars “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (so far as I know, that’s where the term WMD comes from originally) from space. Particularly since they’re calling this a “Space Battleship”, trying to say that these nukes are simply reaction engines sounds dubious. If China, for instance, decided to build one of these, would we just accept their assurances that all these nuclear devices it was lofting are simply peaceful propulsive charges? Didn’t think so. I would also point out that the Space Treaty, like all treaties signed and ratified have the force of Federal law, so as long as the Space Treaty remains in force, this will remain a major non-technical obstacle to building an Orion.

    Reply
  30. While I do want to know what happened in 1990 but I’m even more curious about a couple of other things. What part of Earth is going to volunteer to be repeatedly nuked even if they are only small”” nukes (150-350 tons of TNT equivalent)”” to be the launching point of the Orion? The other thing I want to know is how to square this with the Space Treaty”” which bars “”””Weapons of Mass Destruction”””” (so far as I know”””” that’s where the term WMD comes from originally) from space. Particularly since they’re calling this a “”””Space Battleship”””””” trying to say that these nukes are simply reaction engines sounds dubious. If China for instance decided to build one of these would we just accept their assurances that all these nuclear devices it was lofting are simply peaceful propulsive charges? Didn’t think so. I would also point out that the Space Treaty like all treaties signed and ratified have the force of Federal law so as long as the Space Treaty remains in force”” this will remain a major non-technical obstacle to building an Orion.”””

    Reply
  31. Oh, and bated breath is when you can barely breath with excitement. Baited breath means you’ve been snacking on the worms while trying to catch fish.

    Reply
  32. Oh and bated breath is when you can barely breath with excitement.Baited breath means you’ve been snacking on the worms while trying to catch fish.

    Reply
  33. Is this really that much more powerful than venting reactor and rf heated water plasma? Making thousands of bombs seems like a logistical nightmare.

    It seems we alreadh have more viable approaches.

    Reply
  34. Yep, sort of. I think the experiments done in the 1950s turned up the fact that neutron reflector materials significantly reduce the size of the critical mass for a conventional implosion-type fission warhead, while simultaneously increasing yield. putting a Jelly Belly sized sphere of LiD2 in the center increases the minimum critical mass a bit (about ⊕1 kg), but at the same time multiplies yield 15× or more. Let’s not forget the lessons of Castle Bravo (“The Big Mistake… 15 megatons worth”)

    But yes.

    I think the idea of there being “nuclear battleships” is high fiction: those who talk this up — even the sober, conservatıve types — tend to conflate most-any space ‘thing’ with Star Trek or Star Wars… jetting around without the consequence of acceleration-to-change-velocity-vectors. “270° to starboard, lieutenant!!” and all that.

    The real issue in space is that you MUST “go fast” to go most anywhere; that to “go fast” requires substantial acceleration over substantial time. That once you’re “going fast”, it takes more SUBSTANTIAL time and acceleration to zing off in another direction. And that unlike having a rudder on a battleship, there’s nothing to push against for significant course adjustments … except … more reaction-mass emissions AKA “rocket propulsion”. Doesn’t matter whether we’re talking chemical or nuclear propulsion. Bombs or mono-propellants. Its all exactly the same.

    Time… seconds, hours, days, months
    Energy… ½mv², joules
    Power… dE/dt, watts, kilotons
    Accleeration… Tsiolkovsky’s equation
    Velocity… Ma, m/s, kilometers/sec
    Trigonometry… cos, sin, tan, sec, cot, sinh, cosh…
    Inertia… Mv
    Mass… kilograms, tons, dM/dt
    Time… time, time, time, time and time.

    Just saying.
    GoatGuy

    Reply
  35. Maybe, at a guess, it was going to say “In the 1990s, some work was done on the concept of using antimatter to catalyse nuclear reactions, which resulted in several rocket designs. Traditional nuclear pulse propulsion has the downside that the minimum size of the engine is defined by the minimum size of the nuclear bombs used to create thrust. A conventional nuclear H-bomb design consists of two parts, the primary which is almost always based on plutonium, and a secondary using fusion fuel, normally lithium-deuteride. There is a minimum size for the primary, about 25 kilograms, which produces a small nuclear explosion about 1/100 kiloton (10 tons, 42 GJ; W54). More powerful devices scale up in size primarily through the addition of fusion fuel. Of the two, the fusion fuel is much less expensive and gives off far fewer radioactive products, so from a cost and efficiency standpoint, larger bombs are much more efficient. However, using such large bombs for spacecraft propulsion demands much larger structures able to handle the stress. There is a tradeoff between the two demands. By injecting a small amount of antimatter into a subcritical mass of fuel (typically plutonium or uranium) fission of the fuel can be forced. An anti-proton has a negative electric charge just like an electron, and can be captured in a similar way by a positively charged atomic nucleus. The initial configuration, however, is not stable and radiates energy as gamma rays. As a consequence, the anti-proton moves closer and closer to the nucleus until they eventually touch, at which point the anti-proton and a proton are both annihilated. This reaction releases a tremendous amount of energy, of which, some is released as gamma rays and some is transferred as kinetic energy to the nucleus, causing it to explode. The resulting shower of neutrons can cause the surrounding fuel to undergo rapid fission or even nuclear fusion. The lower limit of the device size is determined by anti-proton handling

    Reply
  36. Maybe at a guess it was going to sayIn the 1990s” some work was done on the concept of using antimatter to catalyse nuclear reactions which resulted in several rocket designs. Traditional nuclear pulse propulsion has the downside that the minimum size of the engine is defined by the minimum size of the nuclear bombs used to create thrust. A conventional nuclear H-bomb design consists of two parts the primary which is almost always based on plutonium and a secondary using fusion fuel normally lithium-deuteride. There is a minimum size for the primary about 25 kilograms which produces a small nuclear explosion about 1/100 kiloton (10 tons 42 GJ; W54). More powerful devices scale up in size primarily through the addition of fusion fuel. Of the two the fusion fuel is much less expensive and gives off far fewer radioactive products so from a cost and efficiency standpoint larger bombs are much more efficient. However using such large bombs for spacecraft propulsion demands much larger structures able to handle the stress. There is a tradeoff between the two demands.By injecting a small amount of antimatter into a subcritical mass of fuel (typically plutonium or uranium) fission of the fuel can be forced. An anti-proton has a negative electric charge just like an electron and can be captured in a similar way by a positively charged atomic nucleus. The initial configuration however is not stable and radiates energy as gamma rays. As a consequence the anti-proton moves closer and closer to the nucleus until they eventually touch at which point the anti-proton and a proton are both annihilated. This reaction releases a tremendous amount of energy of which some is released as gamma rays and some is transferred as kinetic energy to the nucleus causing it to explode. The resulting shower of neutrons can cause the surrounding fuel to undergo rapid fission or even nuclear fusion.The lower limit of the device size is determined by anti-proton handling issues and fi

    Reply
  37. It’s easy to square this with the Treaty – you either amend it or withdraw. The first would be preferable, but more difficult. The second is unilateral. Now under US law, could the Senate have standing to sue if an Administration issued a notice to withdraw? Hard to say, the treaty is US law as you say; but it includes a mechanism to withdraw without binding the signatory states governments on how to exercise that mechanism. My opinion, based on the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002; is that an Administration can withdraw without consent from the Senate.

    Excerpts from the Space Treaty below, copied from the UN web site

    Article XV

    Any State Party to the Treaty may propose amendments to this Treaty. Amendments shall enter into force for each State Party to the Treaty accepting the amendments upon their acceptance by a majority of the States Parties to the Treaty and thereafter for each remaining State Party to the Treaty on the date of acceptance by it.

    Article XVI

    Any State Party to the Treaty may give notice of its withdrawal from the Treaty one year after its entry into force by written notification to the Depositary Governments. Such withdrawal shall take effect one year from the date of receipt of this notification.

    Reply
  38. While I do want to know what happened in 1990, but I’m even more curious about a couple of other things. What part of Earth is going to volunteer to be repeatedly nuked, even if they are only “small” nukes (150-350 tons of TNT equivalent), to be the launching point of the Orion? The other thing I want to know is how to square this with the Space Treaty, which bars “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (so far as I know, that’s where the term WMD comes from originally) from space. Particularly since they’re calling this a “Space Battleship”, trying to say that these nukes are simply reaction engines sounds dubious. If China, for instance, decided to build one of these, would we just accept their assurances that all these nuclear devices it was lofting are simply peaceful propulsive charges? Didn’t think so. I would also point out that the Space Treaty, like all treaties signed and ratified have the force of Federal law, so as long as the Space Treaty remains in force, this will remain a major non-technical obstacle to building an Orion.

    Reply
  39. Maybe, at a guess, it was going to say
    “In the 1990s, some work was done on the concept of using antimatter to catalyse nuclear reactions, which resulted in several rocket designs.

    Traditional nuclear pulse propulsion has the downside that the minimum size of the engine is defined by the minimum size of the nuclear bombs used to create thrust. A conventional nuclear H-bomb design consists of two parts, the primary which is almost always based on plutonium, and a secondary using fusion fuel, normally lithium-deuteride. There is a minimum size for the primary, about 25 kilograms, which produces a small nuclear explosion about 1/100 kiloton (10 tons, 42 GJ; W54). More powerful devices scale up in size primarily through the addition of fusion fuel. Of the two, the fusion fuel is much less expensive and gives off far fewer radioactive products, so from a cost and efficiency standpoint, larger bombs are much more efficient. However, using such large bombs for spacecraft propulsion demands much larger structures able to handle the stress. There is a tradeoff between the two demands.

    By injecting a small amount of antimatter into a subcritical mass of fuel (typically plutonium or uranium) fission of the fuel can be forced. An anti-proton has a negative electric charge just like an electron, and can be captured in a similar way by a positively charged atomic nucleus. The initial configuration, however, is not stable and radiates energy as gamma rays. As a consequence, the anti-proton moves closer and closer to the nucleus until they eventually touch, at which point the anti-proton and a proton are both annihilated. This reaction releases a tremendous amount of energy, of which, some is released as gamma rays and some is transferred as kinetic energy to the nucleus, causing it to explode. The resulting shower of neutrons can cause the surrounding fuel to undergo rapid fission or even nuclear fusion.

    The lower limit of the device size is determined by anti-proton handling issues and fission reaction requirements; as such, unlike either the Project Orion-type propulsion system, which requires large numbers of nuclear explosive charges, or the various anti-matter drives, which require impossibly expensive amounts of antimatter, antimatter catalyzed nuclear pulse propulsion has intrinsic advantages.”

    Just a guess on my part.

    Reply

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