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After the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) partnered with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) earlier this week to develop a nuclear rocket engine, British aerospace company Rolls-Royce has also jumped into the fray. Rolls-Royce is one of the world’s leading aerospace and engine manufacturers, with products found in both military and civilian aircraft – along with submarines and other machinery.
The company also owns an aerospace sector, and shared a somewhat confusing teaser on social media yesterday showing a small nuclear reactor. Nuclear propulsion these days, particularly for civil and peaceful uses, is intended to use highly enriched and low enriched uranium (HALEU) and it seems that the Rolls-Royce engine would also benefit from this fuel.
The mind-boggling Rolls-Royce reactor makes them beg for more
The central message of Announcement by NASA and DARPA That the agencies had settled on a safe fuel for use in nuclear missile engines. These engines already exist and are used on aircraft carriers and submarines – mostly by the US military. However, the fuel used in these engines is highly radioactive and can also be used to make weapons. Naturally, this complicates the use of space since the stakes are higher, and missions are often farther away from potential help if a problem occurs.
Rolls-Royce is one company that aims to build nuclear reactors as well. It has been working on a small modular reactor (SMR) since 2015 and aims to be operational by 2029. This reactor is part of the UK’s energy security strategy, which aims to shift towards low-carbon energy sources by 2030. This monstrous reactor played into the hands of the Russian invasion Ukraine has a crucial role in these developments, as the United Kingdom has been one of the countries hardest hit by the painful hyperinflation resulting from the energy imbalances in Europe.
Each SMR is scheduled to generate at least 470 megawatts of electricity and cost $3 billion to begin with. Impressively, the Rolls-Royce SMR is also the most powerful current SMR whether launched or under licence. Three of them have already finished production and are in operation, according to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Two of these are in Russia and the third is in China.
Rolls-Royce Teaser Shows what is likely to be an extension of SMR. The company calls it a “Rolls-Royce Micro-Reactor,” and the power plant should be part of the company’s potential product portfolio to advance the human presence on the moon. The mini reactor isn’t the only product in Rolls-Royce’s portfolio, as the company is also working on a jet engine and power plant that aims to use naturally decaying radioactive material to generate power.
In addition, Rolls-Royce is also working on a nuclear rocket engine for a two-stage rocket launch, according to Chief Innovation Officer Jake Thompson, who explains:
Now here at Rollys-Royce we have over 60 engineers and scientists working on these amazing technologies for space exploration. We are currently working on the early concept design development and testing phase, for both our two-stage system to orbit and our nuclear systems. We’ve already built a small scale prototype of our space reactor, and by 2029, we’ll have a reactor ready to be sent to the Moon.
The company is also working with the British Space Agency to explore the role of nuclear energy in space exploration. The Rolls-Royce test is currently focusing on ten heaters (likely heat pipes) and the effect the power generation has on their temperature, along with investigating the effect on the overall engine head temperature. It also covers motor voltage rating, corresponding motor power, and system load. In addition, it is also possible for the company to use the Stirling engine in its power system. NASA and Los Alamos National Laboratory Demonstrate a similar concept In 2012.
While nuclear engines seem like a new concept these days, NASA has already conducted six successful tests so far. All of these events occurred in the 1960s and were part of the agency’s plans to explore Mars and the solar system. These tests used the Kiwi engine prototype and applied it to the Nuclear Engine Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) program. NERVA test achieved specific boost He went to 701 seconds, with theoretical impulse in vacuum estimated to exceed 900 s. The tests were also very successful and ran without any issues arising.
In aerospace, specific impulse is the holy grail of engine design and performance. It basically calculates the thrust (energy) generated per unit time by unit mass. This makes it an efficient unit, because engines that generate more thrust with less mass are more efficient and reduce the overall missile weight. To compare with the NERVA engine, the RS-25, which powers the Space Shuttle and NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, is one of the most efficient rocket engines in the world, but has about half the thrust as NERVA – with Read 462 sec. On the other hand, the Raptor 2 from SpaceX is Aim for 382 seconds.