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Guest: John Bucknell; Topics: Nuclear thermal propulsion, chemical propulsion, space solar power (SSP), the commercial case for SSP and more.
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We welcomed back John Bucknell for a two segment 91 minute discussion about nuclear propulsion, his nuclear thermal turbo rocket design project, chemical propulsion, nuclear reactors, commercial markets and incentives, and space based solar power for energy over fossil fuels. We started our discussion talking about nuclear propulsion with John updating us to the fact that last week President Trump told the FAA that they had to issue nuclear propulsion regulations (https://www.space.com/trump-nuclear-spacecraft-launch-guidelines.html). John also talked about RTGs plus the February 2019 conference he attended regarding advances in nuclear thermal reactors. He talked about their mass and power capabilities plus being compact in size. In addition, he noted how they were coming in under 20% enhanced material as over 20% suggests weaponization. John then provided us with historical comparisons regarding nuclear propulsion possibilities.
John talked about his own plans and is work toward getting NIAC funding. Here, he provided a short course in rocket history including SpaceX and his work with Mr. Musk. He mentioned the papers he had presented and published along with their evolutionary nature. This led us to discussing cost economics for nuclear fuel as to mentioning things that a nuclear rocket could do. Two things he mentioned included space based solar power and space tourism. Of the two, he focused on SSP.
Ft. Worth John called to talk about airbreathing with a nuclear rocket. The two Johns addressed aerospike engine design and other relevant technology, plus the political restraints in play that impact development. Don't miss what they had to say. In addition, let us know your thoughts on the discussion so far by posting them on our blog.
In the second segment, our guest wanted to focus on space solar power and how to make money with it. However, he first took a question from listener Carol wanting to know if an individual could own nuclear material in the US. John discussed this at length, distinguishing between an individual and an organization which could get licensed to own nuclear material. He talked about using licensed companies to build the reactors for the other companies. Once again, don't miss this short but important discussion.
Back to SSP and how to make money with it. John provide us with interesting stats on the usage of fossil fuels plus market potential. He said we needed lower cost to space access, mentioned the O'Neill vision, said the shuttle was too costly and also we needed the launchers to be fully reusable. John mentioned several leaders in the field and he referenced their work. He then put forth economics but using chemical rockets. He said that the nuclear rockets would have to come later.
Marshall called to say he liked the economic analysis and numbers our guest was using. Linda sent in a note asking about ongoing maintenance and operating costs for an SSP system. Also, what would be involved in protecting the panels on orbit. John was suggesting a 20 year economic life for the SSP system. Don't miss John's full and detailed SSP economic discussion. Listen to his numbers and then tell us what you think with your own analysis on our blog.
Our guest addressed orbital preferences with energy requirements for the orbits. In response to a timeline question, he suggested six years. He was asked why would the SSP effort be different this time given so many failed starts and projects in the past. Now he brought in China and their plans with SSP but he said China could not make it economic with their system. He talked about early market entries and studies saying that it could be done economically today. John then introduced AI to the equation and talked about how much energy advanced AI would need. This was another potential SSP market. Before our discussion ended, he was asked about SSP as a weapon. He addressed the laser issue, rectenna issues, the inability to focus SSP technology to act as a weapon and more. Don't miss what he said as to why SSP would not be weaponized.
Please post your comments/questions on The Space Show blog for this show. You can reach John Bucknell through me or through website searches for his name and his nuclear thermal rocket turbo project.