spacecraftRussia, the US and other nations are to discuss cooperation on building a nuclear-powered spacecraft, according to the head of Roscosmos – the Russian space agency.

Anatoly Perminov (the head of Roscosmos), told Russia’s state-owned newswire that states with a high degree of nuclear reactor technology will take part in the talks. So while Roscosmos and NASA are the principal space agencies involved, France, Germany, China, and Japan were also mentioned as potential partners in the report.

Perminov went on to add that Russia intends to complete its design of a “nuclear engine” for use in space by 2012, and that in order to actually build this, funding of 17 billion roubles ($600m) will be required. He envisages this funding coming primarily from Rosatom, the state nuclear agency, rather than Roscosmos. The international discussions suggest that funding or at any rate cooperation will also be sought from overseas.

In previous reports, Perminov has been quoted as saying that the “engine” design now being worked on is of the type known as “megawatt-class nuclear space power systems” (MCNSPS). This refers specifically to use of a nuclear reactor to generate electricity, but other previous remarks regarding a propulsion capability suggest that the Russian engine could also use reactor heat to eject reaction mass, providing thrust as well as electrical power. Reactors normally generate a large surplus of heat energy over and above their electrical output, so the scope is there to do both propulsion and power generation at once: nuclear rockets using reactors to heat reaction mass were tested decades ago. Because they can use reaction mass selected to be good reaction mass – rather than being forced to accept what chemical fuels can produce – they can get much more shove out of a given weight of fuel.

read more [theregister]