Mar 112018

A model of the Northrop low altitude penetrator alternative to the B-2, to be 3D printed and turned into a kit for Fantastic Plastic is in the very early stages.

And a JPL interstellar precursor spacecraft design with a Pluto orbiter. The goal was to put scientific instruments a full 1,000 astronomical units out using nuclear/electric propulsion. This model is being built with the specific intention of using it to create a set of accurate and consistent diagrams for the next issue of US Spacecraft projects, but I wonder if there might be interest in a physical model of this.


 Posted by at 1:49 am
Mar 092018

Advanced “space guns,” typically lasers, railguns, coilguns, neutral particle beams and the like, have a problem: power. Nuclear reactors and solar panels can provide power for years at a time, but generally their steady-state power output is only a tiny fraction of the instantaneous power needed when the gun goes off. So to run a weapon that needs many gigawatts for a fraction of a second with a powerplant that produces kilowatts, you need an energy storage system that can convert that energy into power on a moments notice. Things like batteries are great in principle, but their weight is vast and their ability to release power at the high levels needed is generally poor.

Often this has resulted in space weapons that use chemical reactions to provide the power needed. This has meant that the total number of shots that can be fired is strictly limited.

In the 1980’s during the SDI heyday, Westinghouse looked at an alternate approach: rotating hoops. Giant wheels made of advanced composite materials would be spun up over time by a low-power system such as a nuclear reactor, and when needed these flywheels would be electromagnetically braked to generate vast amounts of power as the wheels ground to a halt. The system could be “reloaded” by slowly spinning the wheels up again… assuming the system hadn’t torn itself part.

The weapon shown below is probably largely notional, no masses or dimensions were given. But based on a smaller terrestrial unit (with ten hoops, each 14.5 meters diameter, massing 140,000 kg each, spinning at 1800 RPM to deliver a total of 1 gigawatt for 10 minutes to power anti-missile lasers and such), this can be assumed to be a fairly *vast* construction, far heavier than anything mankind has so far launched into orbit. Obviously such a thing would be impossible to launch as a unit; it would be assembled in space using spools of fibers wound in place. Presumably the weapon itself would be at least somewhat aimable independent of the flywheels… slewing *them* about to aim at a moving target would seem to be an exercise in futility.

This came from the paper “Rotating Hoop, Pulsed-Energy Converter” contained in “Transactions of the Fifth Symposium on Space Nuclear Power Systems.” A PDF of that can be downloaded if you go HERE and click the “PDF” button.

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 Posted by at 3:33 am
Mar 012018


Pentagon confirms that Russia is testing a cruise missile powered by an unshielded nuclear reactor


Russia’s new cruise missile has crashed in testing: US

Putin is claiming that the Russians have a nuclear powered cruise missile capable of defeating all current missile defense systems. Something like Pluto would very likely be able to do that… if it works. Mach three at a thousand feet altitude would be incredibly hard to shoot down, and would make a hell of a mess over the entire flight path; shock waves from the passing craft would cause structural damage and injuries, radioactive particles spat out by the reactor would leave a trail of waste behind.

It’s a little difficult to imagine what advantage such a system would *really* provide. Missiles like this would cost a lot more than simpler ICBMs, and it’s not like the US has an effective defense system against a massed ICBM attack. A nuclear-powered cruise missile is the sort of thing that the Russians can’t use *a* *little* *bit* against the United States; any use of such a weapon would result in a full-blown nuclear response, so it would only be useful in the context of a full-up war.

All that said: the news should be interesting over the next few weeks. It’s entirely possible that Putin is full of crap and they don’t have a Pluto; or there was a translation foulup somewhere, and the Russians never meant to imply they have a Pluto. But what if they *are* claiming to have a Pluto? Go ahead and imagine the unholy sh!tstorm that would result if the US announced that it had a new cruise missile with a nuclear reactor as a power source, a missile that would leave a 10,000 mile path of radioactive waste behind it. The press would go *insane.* It would be the biggest news of the day, and would lead to outrage and protests and all kinds of trouble. What will a Russian Pluto lead to? We shall see, I suppose.

 Posted by at 9:34 pm
Mar 012018

If you’ve hung around this blog long enough you may recall “Pax Orionis,” a book i started writing detailing an alternate history where the United States went ahead and developed Project Orion. I even started a Patreon to support the development of the book! But after a few of the stories were written, it sorta faded into the background as other needs and projects became overwhelming.

I’ve finally finished the next Pax Orionis story, “The Magicians.” It is *not* the story I was working on the last time I posted… still pecking away on that one (“Starship Troopers”). The one I’ve just finished is about 20 pages and is currently in massive need of editing and revision (it’s a mess), but it is at least completed. So more stuff *is* coming!

Almost promptly after my previous post saying I was back on the job of writing Pax Orionis, I got sucked into another, completely different writing project, a bit of Lovecraftian sci-fi/horror called “The War With The Deep Ones.” I’ve written a whole bunch of that… pretty much a whole novels worth.

You can read the first of those stories (“Honolulu”) here:

And you can get the second installment (“Champion of the Seas”) here:

Pax Orionis diverges from our timeline when the Cuban Missile Crisis becomes the Cuban War. Pax Orionis is being written as something of a history collection, including official accounts, personal recollections, tech reports, excerpts from history books and novels and magazine articles. if this sounds at all interesting, feel free to take a look at some of the earlier posts, and certainly wander by the Pax Orionis Patreon. If you sign up, it’s only a buck… and only when new stories get posted. You can also catch up on the earlier stories such as “Deadliest Catch,” “Birth of the Bomb” and “The Blast from Jackass Flats.”

 Posted by at 7:14 pm
Feb 272018

Rewards have been issued to APR Patreon patrons for February, 2018. This month, the diagram is a 1/40 scale B-52B diagram. Normally the diagrams are sent out at full 300 dpi (with 125 dpi for the $1.25 patrons), but at 300 dpi the diagram is simply Way Too Big at over 40,000 pixels wide. Most image viewing programs will simply go “nope”and refuse to even try to display such images. so this month the image is sent out at 200 dpi (still slightly over 30,000 pixels wide), and 83 dpi for the $1.25 patrons. The 83 dpi version is also included for the higher level patrons for easier viewing.

Also: the documents this month include a United Aircraft paper on advanced future space propulsion systems as seen from 1969, and a January 1953 Douglas Aircraft design study for the DC-8. The CAD diagram this month is the Ganswindt Weltenfahrzeug… a truly terrible design for a spaceship from 1899. Terrible though it may be, it one of the first designs that is clearly in the Project Orion family tree…

If you are interested in helping to preserve (and get copies of) this sort of thing, consider signing up for the APR Patreon.



 Posted by at 2:36 pm
Feb 192018

The NERVA nuclear rocket, studied throughout the sixties into the early 1970’s, would have been a great way to propel spacecraft. But a nuclear rocket is not the same sort of reactor as is generally designed for use in space to generate electrical power. A NERVA can produce *gigawatts* of thermal energy, energy which is carried away with the high mass flow rate of the hydrogen propellant. Power reactors, on the other hand, are generally designed for several orders of magnitude lower thermal power… a few thermal megawatts, perhaps, to produce a few hundred kilowatts of electricity.

However, the fact remains that a nuclear rocket *is* a nuclear reactor. For most missions it would burn for a few minutes, at most perhaps few hours, out of a mission lasting perhaps years. It is thus a bit of a shame to waste all that potential. So over the decades many studies have been made for using a nuclear rocket as a power generator .

One such study was reported by Aerojet in 1970. The abstract is HERE, the direct PDF download if HERE.

In this study, the NERVA would pump out 1,500 thermal megawatts during the propulsion phase(producing 75,000 pounds of thrust), dropping to 250 to 505 thermal kilowatts during the power generation phase, enough to create 25 kilowatts of electricity. This would be a very low-power, low-temperature use of the reactor, reducing system efficiency… but still, making use of a reactor that was already there, and not noticeably using up the fission fuel in the reactor. The reactor would be run at very lower power levels and hydrogen would flow through a closed loop built into the reactor; the warmed gaseous hydrogen would flow through a turbogenerator to create electricity; the warm hydrogen would then pass through a radiator built on the outer surface of the hydrogen tank itself.

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 Posted by at 3:26 pm
Feb 182018

Well, this is multiple levels of disturbing:

Scoop: Skirmish in Beijing over the nuclear football

Apparently something a little less than entirely awesome may have occurred when Trump visited China back in November: a US military aide carrying the “nuclear football” was separated by Chinese security officers from the Presidential group. There was a physical confrontation between the Chinese and the US Secret Service before it all settled out.

Of course, this could turn out to be BS.


U.S. Secret Service denies agent tackled Chinese official after John Kelly got into nuclear football brawl

Option 1: Take it at face value. Fake news!

Option 2: Well… what *would* they say? If the story was accurate, it would – or at least should – be an international incident and yet another embarrassment for the Secret Service, just exactly the sort of thing they’d want to keep quiet.

Six of one…

 Posted by at 10:05 pm
Feb 032018

Not a new theory, but now with a bit more evidence:

New research suggests toward end of Ice Age, human beings witnessed fires larger than dinosaur killer, thanks to a cosmic impact

There is one bit that has me raising a skeptical eyebrow:

The KU researcher and his colleagues believe the data suggests the disaster was touched off when Earth collided with fragments of a disintegrating comet that was roughly 62 miles in diameter — the remnants of which persist within our solar system to this day.

A 62 mile diameter comet would be many times bigger than the one that whacked the dinosaurs. So *perhaps* they mean that it was 62 miles in diameter before it fragmented, and Earth only hit a fraction of it. On the other hand if it fragments sufficiently, so that the chunks were reduced in size enough that they would all burn up in the atmosphere, there’d be no cratering. The total amount of energy dumped onto Earth might be many times greater than the KT impact, but it would come in the form of a quick flash of light and a series of mighty booms rather than a cratering event throwing gigatons of ash and tectites into the sky.

An important point for future discussions of planetary defense: it’s better to be ht by a cloud of little bits than a single giant impactor, even if the cloud hits with more total energy. The atmosphere serves as a bit like a bulletproof vest for the planet, and if someone if going to shoot you with a 12 gauge while you’re wearing such a vest, you’d rather they shot you with a mass of birdshot than a single deer slug. So arguments that planetary defense strategies should avoid energetic systems like nukes in favor of soft, slow processes like solar sails and gravity tractors and the like because nukes might fragment the impactor… not terribly good arguments.

 Posted by at 6:36 pm