Beyond NERVA looks at the uses of nuclear power in space. From electricity generation, to heating, to the use of radioactive decay and particle physics, the uses of nuclear power in space are many. In original conception, it was just a YouTube channel, in the mold of Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur (one of my mentors in futurism), but it became clear to me that more was needed. The blog was started because there are topics that I wanted to address before I would have gotten to them in the videos, and the website pages grew out of the need to shorten the video length, and also provide a place for information too technical for a YouTube video. The first five or so videos are in various stages of completion, and hopefully I’ll be able to have the first up by late winter/early spring 2018, but the blog and the website are up now, albeit in very early development.
Unfortunately, there have been few who have really looked deeply into nuclear power in space that weren’t specialists themselves. For a long time, Nuclear Space was the place to go for this information, but it shut down years ago, and as far as I can tell it isn’t even at archive.org.
These days, the place to go is Project Rho, run by the profligate, inestimable Winchell Chung. It seems like everything you could want to know about nuclear power in space is in there… if you can find it. His writeups of various designs are wonderful, he is a font of information into some of the most esoteric topics in astronuclear matters, especially when they pertain to military operations. However, much of his focus is on the truth in the fiction, and while he does cover current designs well, he doesn’t go into detail in many of the designs. Also, it can be difficult to use Atomic Rockets as a reference in discussions, because it’s a rabbit hole of a website that will suck you in for hours, and that’s just finding what you’re looking for.
NASA’s website, and the sites for the various Department of Energy groups working on space nuclear systems, are notoriously difficult to find anything in. There’s an incredible amount of information available on NASA’s Technical Report Server, but Google-fu is scratching the surface of what is needed to find what you’re looking for (I’ve found author’s names to be especially helpful, by the way).
Here, we’re going to be looking at the more practical side of nuclear power, from a slightly more technical than usual point for most popular space websites. The fundamentals of nuclear power aren’t nearly as difficult as people make them out to be, there’s just lots and lots of stuff that goes into each system. If your average person decides to read into the subject, it’s amazing what can be understood with just a high school education; the problem is that places to learn about it are few and far between.
All references to material on this site will be provided, with links to the original sources. Whatever I’m allowed to host myself, I will. Nothing on this site is classified in any way to my knowledge, and I don’t want any change to this. Many people, when they first start looking into what’s available, are astounded by how much information is available publicly, the problem is that many people don’t know that this is the case. Hopefully, this site will help with that.
As to myself, I’m the classic “Guy on the Internet.” I’m a high school dropout (with a GED as my highest form of education) who grew up in a family of engineers, working as either employees of or subcontractors to the Department of Energy. Since I was a child, I was fascinated by both nuclear power and the challenges of spaceflight, and when I discovered they were great for each other I fell in love, but for various reasons have never been able to complete a degree of any sort. So instead I’ve studied both nuclear power and spaceflight, off and on, for over a decade as a hobby. I have a deep respect for the limits of physics, and a fascination with engineering limitations. If I’ve made a mistake anywhere on the site, please leave a comment for me so I can correct it. If you have worked on one of the projects I’ve covered, and would be willing to talk to me (on or off the record) about it, please get in touch.