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Dr. Madhu Thangavelu, Jake Dodd, Monday, 11-26-12 November 27, 2012

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Dr. Madhu Thangavelu, Jake Dodd, Monday, 11-26-12


Guests:  Dr. Madhu Thangavelu, Jake Dodd.  Topics: This program discusses Jake’s concept of placing a nuclear fuel plant in space in support of nuclear propulsion/space needs.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, http://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. We welcomed back Dr. Madhu Thangalevu and his student Jake Dodd to discuss the concept of SNAP-X: The Space Nuclear Activation Plant.  I have uploaded his AIAA paper by the same title and his Power Point slide presentation to The Space Show blog which should provide you with more specific information about Jake’s concept.  Essentially, the plan calls for putting a breeder reactor in space to supply nuclear fuel for space needs safely rather than launching from Earth all the time.  During our first segment, both Professor Thangavelu and Mr. Dodd explained the concept in detail.  We talked about weapons proliferation in the process, the breeder reactor and why that was the chosen technology, the safety in place for this technology, and the use of it in the EML1 location and why.  Part of our conversation focused in on projected time lines and development costs as I tried to get an idea of what would be involved in bringing this project to at least an Earth-based demo status.  Listeners emailed and called in about the problems given the amount of fear within the public and parts of the government every time the word nuclear is mentioned, then saying that the use of a breeder reactor heightens that societal fear level.  We discussed ways of dealing with this during our discussion.  In addition, listeners questioned the safety of a breeder reactor and the use of Thorium as a non-weapon nuclear fuel.

In our second segment, we talked more about tight budgets, private and public partnerships, and international cooperation to bring this project to at least demo status.  Charles called in to challenge our guests on their Thorium comments regarding conversion to U-233 which he said was an effective fuel for weapons as was U-235.  I believe you will find this exchange most useful in understanding many of the issues regarding this project.  Our guests brought up the nuclear rocket history and the NERVA project, plus we asked Jake for his plan of attack in getting his project going.  As our program was ending, Madhu talked about his next Design Studio Class which culminates with new student projects on Dec. 18th.

I look forward to talking about many of these projects on The Space Show in 2013.  Post your comments/questions on The Space Show blog.  If you want to email either of our guests, please do so through me.

Here are the two documents we talked about during the show regarding Jake’s concept.

Dodd AIAASpace2012


Dr. Steve Howe, Tuesday, 1-24-12 January 25, 2012

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Dr. Steve Howe, Tuesday, 1-24-12


Guest:  Dr. Steven Howe.  Topics:  space nuclear power for power & propulsion systems, & radioisotope power generators. You are invited to comment, ask questions, & discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, http://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments, questions, & any discussion must be relevant & applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright.  You will want to follow the websites along with our guest:  http://csnr.usra.edu/index.html &  www.usra.edu.  If you are interested in the CSNR 2012 Summer Fellowship Program, you can learn more & apply no later than March 9, 2012  from CSNR at  http://csnr.usra.edu/2012_summer_app2.html.  We welcomed Dr. Howe to the program to discuss space nuclear power.  We started out with an overview of both the Center for Space Nuclear Research & the Universities Space Research Association.  Dr. Howe then told us that they were working on nuclear rockets with the Aerojet Corporation, focusing on a new fuel form away from based on tungsten.  During our discussion, he had much to say about this fuel, its advantages, & its testing.  He also talked about ISP & thrust to weight ratios.  He was asked about testing & we learned they plan on doing ground tests at the Nevada Test Site.  Listen to why their tests will be different from earlier nuclear rocket engine tests & how they are expelling the exhaust into the ground.  You will hear There is no radiation, only hydrogen which bleeds into the rock strata.  We also talked about public concern for nuclear power in space, then we shifted our focus to a nuclear rocket mission to Mars.  Dr. Howe told us about the three year Mars mission but also said with a nuclear rocket a one year mission would be possible.  We also talked about the costs for developing the nuclear rocket as well as the possibility of other countries doing it before the U.S.  Next, we talked about the use of uranium & even the possibility of thorium, including why thorium is not useful for weapons. One listener question asked about the Mars Direct method & insitu resource utilization.  Dr. Howe supported the use of insitu but suggested it for later trips as it might be too risky for the initial trips.  He then described their Mars Hopper project which will certainly interest us all.  As this segment ended, we talked about using the nuclear rocket for going to the Moon & for a lunar & even Martian habitat. 

As we started our second segment, Dr. Howe was asked if QuickLaunch could be useful.  Dr. Dewar sent in a clarification note about U-233 as a byproduct of  thorium & why its a problem for weapons.  In talking about a lunar habitat, Dr. Howe told us about the NASA Fission Surface Power Program (FSP).  We also talked about using the new tungsten fuel for habitats.  He told us about the Nuclear Thermal Mars Sample Mission Study that compared the nuclear rocket to Delta IV launches.  Listeners asked about Vasimr & our guest was asked to clarify for us the differences between nuclear electric propulsion & nuclear thermal propulsion & why the latter is preferable.  Dr. Dewar sent in another note to talk about Y-12.  Later, much was said about plutonium & its pending shortage.  Make sure you hear what Dr. Howe had to say about this looming shortage. Near the end, Dr. Howe mentioned his efforts with Hbar Technologies, LLC, suggesting that possibly using these nuclear advancements for medicine, specifically cancer, might be a driver for space applications. As we concluded, Dr. Howe told us about his books on Kindle & the consolidated all in one book, “Earth Rise.”  Here is the Amazon URL & remember, if you buy it using this URL, Amazon contributes to The Space Show: www.amazon.com/Earth-Rise-ebook/dp/B005LD3LYS/ref=onegialeafou-20

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