Nuclear Power Sources and Future Space Exploration

By Mirmina, Steven A.; Herder, David J. Den | Chicago Journal of International Law, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Nuclear Power Sources and Future Space Exploration


Mirmina, Steven A., Herder, David J. Den, Chicago Journal of International Law


I. INTRODUCTION

On January 14, 2004, President Bush announced a multi-decade long "Vision for Space Exploration" that encompasses human and robotic travel to the moon, Mars, and beyond. Central to this vision, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") is pursuing "Project Prometheus," a program that will manifest NASA's intention to revolutionize exploration in the twenty-first century. Project Prometheus represents a tremendous development in technology. When complete, it will utilize new and highly advanced power systems, including nuclear fission reactor technology, to enable systemic and propulsive power generation in space. Eventually, future nuclear thermal propulsion applications realized under Project Prometheus would hope to cut the travel time for a human journey to Mars from three years round-trip to a mere ninety days each way. Prometheus plans to provide spacecraft and potential future outposts with thousands to hundreds-of-thousands of watts of electricity ("We"), as opposed to the mere tens or hundreds of watts currently realized (equivalent to a few household light bulbs). The amount of energy generated represents a true paradigm shift for mission planners, both due to the amounts of power that will be available for scientists to conduct their investigations and research, as well as the future ability to provide power to maneuver a spacecraft throughout its mission via nuclear electric propulsion.

In light of such innovation and on the brink of such a fundamental transformation in space exploration, the United States has an important opportunity to engage the international community in analyses of issues related to the use of Nuclear Power Sources ("NPS") in space. NPS have been the subject of numerous recent international discussions. Most notably, at the United Nations, NPS has been on the agenda of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee ("STSC") of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space ("COPUOS"). Additionally, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics ("AIAA") recently hosted a Working Group on Nuclear Power Sources for Space Exploration. With so much attention being directed to NPS issues, it is appropriate to examine international legal issues related to nuclear-powered space exploration, and further, to consider opportunities facing the United States and other spacefaring nations to ensure the prudent application of this technology.

In this article, we will first provide a brief explanation of what NPS is and how it works. The article will clarify how terms are used and explain some factual background so that the issues can be discussed with clarity. It will follow with a brief history of the use of NPS in space, illustrating that the United States and Russia (including the former Soviet Union) have employed various forms of NPS in space for more than forty years. Next, the focus will shift to a discussion of the international legal regimes governing NPS both in space and, to a limited extent, on Earth, before launch. After the international legal regime, the United States's domestic regulatory and procedural structure is examined, with a discussion of an illustrative case in which plaintiffs attempted to enjoin the US Government from launching the NPS-equipped Cassini spacecraft.1 We conclude by examining several policy issues concerning nuclear power and propulsion systems in space, including the rationale and need therefor, while advocating extensive public participation and transparency in the safety reviews and decision making related to the use of this technology. Finally, the Article calls for spacefaring nations to establish and observe an international, technically-based safety framework to provide assurance to the world population that space NPS will be used in a safe manner and to facilitate bilateral and multilateral cooperation on missions using nuclear reactors and technologies in space.

II. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND AND USE OF TERMS

An initial clarification of term usage is prudent.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Nuclear Power Sources and Future Space Exploration
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.