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Guest: John Bucknell; Topics: Turbo rocket concept design for a nuclear thermal rocket with a chemical rocket variant, nuclear propulsion, education, policy and more. Please direct all comments and questions regarding specific Space Show programs & guest(s) to the Space Show blog which is part of archived program on our website, www.thespaceshow.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. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.
We welcomed John Bucknell back to the show for a two segment 123 minute discussion regarding John's concept design for a high performance air-breathing rocket propulsion system both with nuclear thermal rocket propulsion and chemical rocket propulsion. Note that John upload important information to the blog for this show. You will find his current YouTube presentation on his latest concept design plus his presentation paper he recently made at the AIAA Propulsion Conference. During our discussion, John referenced his AIAA presentation multiple times.
We opened the discussion by my asking John what was new with his concept design since his October 2017 Space Show visit. John talked about upgrades to his design concept and his presentation at the recent AIAA Propulsion Conference. Again, please read his paper which you can find on our blog for this show. He talked about the changes to his design since 2015, including both nuclear and enhanced chemical propulsion without nuclear. Listen carefully to what our guest said as we built on this information for today's discussion.
John spent time focusing on details with us but soon we got to asking financial, market and closing the business case questions. He also put out a call for technical help but in addition, the business type of help as well because such a project raises questions about the market, current and future demand, and for what purposes. These questions were a theme for our full discussion today.
John mentioned one business that he thought would be a plus and that was space solar power (SSP). He discussed the current state of SSP, why lower launch and access costs were key, and he talked about getting costs down to around $200/kilo with his design. He said the chemical version of his design would probably be better for Leo but for the Moon he said the nuclear version would be better. Don't miss this discussion.
Josh from Houston sent in the first email asking our guest for his thoughts on the rumors of the Russian nuclear powered cruise missile weapon. John was familiar with the rumors as well, talked about nuclear thermal rockets, weapons, and technology. He did not know if the Russian rumors were accurate or not but said what was real was the hypersonic progress being made by the Russians and Chinese and these missiles were very dangerous since they traveled so fast they were hard to stop. He said we were playing catch up with this technology, both for use with weapons and for other purposes.
Claire from Baltimore sent in a note asking if John thought the issue of people reacting with fear to the word nuclear was a real issue for nuclear propulsion. He said it was but listen to everything he said on this subject as he referenced a St. Louis conference where nuclear was the boogey man. John also suggested radiation was about that of a dental X-ray but because of the lack of education about nuclear propulsion, we get adverse policy decisions. John cited the record with the Navy which prompted a listener phone call later in the show. John talked about nuclear power plants and shutting them down, we had a short discussion on the California energy problems as nuclear is part of those problems, and he noted that nuclear oriented startup businesses are struggling due to the fear and regulatory environment. He said many look at opportunities in Canada and even China.
Marshall called wanting to know if the handling of a nuclear thermal rocket was similar to how he handled tactical nuclear weapons decades ago when Marshall was in the Army. Marshall and John had a good and very interesting conversation on this subject plus related items so listen carefully to it. They talked about fuel, nuclear waste, fuel efficiency, uranium, thorium, and the waste problem. To repeat myself, you do not want to miss this part of the discussion.
Mark sent in a note asking what people could do to facilitate nuclear propulsion. John suggested a few things that people could do, especially if they were retired or had extra time on their hands. Next, I read an email from Stephanie in the greater Los Angeles area. This is hard to summarize but listen to her email and what John said. I also chimed in and tended to agree with Stephanie and John. I also suggested asking candidates for their position on nuclear power and nuclear propulsion. If they opposed it, don't vote for them. I suspect most won't know anything about nuclear rocket propulsion but if they are not supportive of nuclear power, they would probably not be eager to support nuclear propulsion. Since the elected officials are the ones that make policy and guide regulation, electing people that support nuclear power and propulsion makes sense if this is an issue of concern to you. Separating who we elect from the policies we get does not seem practical or even logical to me as the people we elect make the policies that impact us all for good and for bad.
Dave from Chicago called. Dave is our friend who was a nuclear submariner trained by Adm. Hyman Rickover way back when. Dave has been a guest on many programs and always calls when we have the nuclear topic on the agenda. In addition, Dave has solid information for us based on his years in the Navy with nuclear submarines plus his years in the commercial nuclear power plant industry. Dave and John had a great discussion about history, hardware, policy, safety, ISP concerns and more. Don't miss their conversation as it was definitely informative and educational. Dave and John also talked about the nuclear rocket benefits. Just one benefit mentioned was that by going nuclear, one could get to Mars three times faster than by chemical propulsion. John and Dave talked about how this speed reduced the health risks and many other problems for the human flights to and from Mars.
We started the second segment looking at the global business opportunities that would arise were space access costs reduced to similar transportation costs here on Earth. John suggested this was possible with his concept design. Listen to his explanation for his conclusions. During this final segment, our guest looked at commercial possibilities, projects that countered our scarcity based economic system and more. Space settlement was an idea that came up. John also compared point to point travel possibilities with the development that is going on with supersonic transport jets. John mentioned that the biggest business on Earth was housing so he suggested maybe housing or space habs might be a beneficial industry that came about as space access costs were lowered and more routine than they are now. John then introduced us to energy problems, fossil fuel issues, policy and more. He mentioned a blog he likes on the subject, Our Finite World. Check it out if interested.
Paul sent in an email suggesting John focus on the propulsion or transportation and leave the what to do issues to others. In making his suggestion, he referenced what Tory Bruno said the day before when Tory said they wanted to be the cislunar space transportation company. We then took a call from Jon in Redding. Jon suggested sport diving from space and space tourism would be big commercial opportunities. Jon did not think that many people would be wanting to do space settlement given the harsh environments one would be forced to live in with space settlement.
Dr. James Dewar called the show and it was really good to hear from him again as he has been AWOL from TSS for a while. Jim talked nuclear history and technology with John with a focus on the nuclear thermal reach pressure core issues. Don't miss this important specialized discussion. They talked ISP and temperatures of various test NTR designs, then Jim suggested that whatever John and the new generation of people did, he hoped they included the manufacturing and metal expertise of the Y12 National Security Complex in the development of the rocket. If you are not familiar with Y12, check it out here: https://www.y12.doe.gov/. John was familiar with Y12 and agreed that they should be involved in the development of a nuclear rocket. John also said he has visited the Y12 facility near Oak Ridge. Before ending the discussion with Dr. Dewar, John talked about Babcock & Wilcox, Westinghouse, and Los Alamos. Both Jim and John referenced key work done by Dr. Robert Broussard who is no longer with us. Listen to the story Jim told about why nuclear propulsion was ruled out at launch but only allowed for in space in LEO. It was based on emotion but listen to the story. John know the story but also added that it was in the era of closing down atmospheric testing of bombs and the fear and confusion with everything nuclear was already in high gear.
Please post your comments/questions for our guest on our blog. You can reach John Bucknell through his address on his papers and through me.