Welcome to the inauguration of the Beyond NERVA blog!
In-space nuclear power has been a fascination for me for the majority of my life, but I have had to spend years fighting to understand the details of these incredible engines. There is an immense library of information available on them, but the majority of it is locked away in technical papers, progress reports, and buried in organizational histories.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t people that have done awesome work bringing the history and future of nuclear propulsion to light. Winchell Chung’s Atomic Rockets is the online Bible of advanced spaceflight concepts. There are several bloggers that have written on this, such as Atomic Skies, and other blogs have covered the subject on occasion as well, such as Inside the LEO Doghouse (no main page for that blog, because NASA) and the ANS Nuclear Cafe.
There was one omission that I saw, though: nobody seems to be doing videos on the subject. YouTube has become an awesome platform for public outreach and education, and as Gordon McDowell has showed in his Thorium videos, even fairly advanced reactor design can be tackled in video format, given enough time.
At the same time I started thinking about this, I also started watching Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur, and that pushed me harder to want to make something like SFIA, but more narrowly focused on nuclear power in space. I wanted to make the nuclear reactor on a spacecraft into something that people could understand, not the magic black box that it’s often depicted as.
It’s not that there’s no video about the subject on YouTube already. From old NASA documentaries (and now some from behind the Iron Curtain) to conference presentations on different designs, to stunning visualizations of realistic designs, and clips from the Rover program, there’s plenty for you to watch, but there’s also a lot missing. I decided that I wanted to do an educational series, walking through the different reactor types, the support hardware for the engines, and the missions that they enabled. So, I began to gather the information that I could, started asking more questions in various fora, and began writing some scripts.
Then, Isaac did two things: he invited to help me on his channel as part of the Production Group, and he released The Nuclear Option, the last video before the PG started, so I got to see his summary of the technology. If you haven’t seen it, it’s very good and worth watching. It’s the only video that looks at the variety of systems available, but even then, time constraints prevented much more than a summary.
Seeing what went into the channel behind the scenes has been a real eye-opener, but has also given me the chance to learn from the best YouTuber out there, and to rub shoulders with incredible writers, artists, researchers, and all around creative people. I also got recruited into a couple other roles as well, but all of these ended up taking time away from getting the channel together.
While all this was happening, I continued to research, and get some writing done, but found that there were some common misconceptions out there about what’s going on with nuclear power in space, ones that took a few paragraphs to address properly. The differences between NERVA and the new LEU CERMET engine are huge, but not immediately obvious. The Kilopower program is often seen as some huge LFTR, not a small scale heat-pipe cooled sealed unit designed to fit a very specific niche. These are things that I’m planning on addressing at some point in the channel, but they are well down the list of when the videos would come out.
Enter the blog. Here, I’m going to post on stuff that keeps coming up, or catches my attention during research but isn’t something I’m ready to do a video on. When videos come out, I’ll also do a companion blog post with my sources, and at the very least a transcript of the video. I’ll also post on stuff that I had to cut for time, or doesn’t really fit anywhere else.
Work is continuing on the channel, both in the writing and the visuals. I’m beginning to work on 3D models for animations, and thanks to especially Katie and Jarred I’m learning a lot about Blender, and the visual side of things is a huge key to doing this: there are very few stills, and even less video, available for illustration of advanced reactor concepts, and Blender is surprisingly easy. Scripts keep getting written and rewritten, and the other random considerations are being addressed as well. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a timeline available.
In the meantime, I’ll post on here at unknown frequency, on unpredictable subjects related to nuclear spaceflight. The adventure is still just beginning!