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Physics/How to power space probes for long time?


Hello, let's say people decide to make "Project Orion" like space probe and send it to the nearest star. Nuclear bombs explode and push the ship, but what about electricity on board? How would you power computers on it for 50 years or even 100 years? What would be used? I doubt it would be batteries so some sort of nuclear reactor? But can nuclear reactor last 100 or years?

That's a good question.  A traveling wave reactor could power everything, and that could be easily designed to last for most of that time, backup reactors brought along to go through.  I believe the typical TWR design is good to go without refueling for about 60+ years.  So there are definitely nuclear power options if you're already talking about nuclear weapons to power something.  Honestly, an open-core traveling wave reactor is a design alternative that I've tossed around with people as an alternative to nuclear weapons for a deep-space drive.  Using the core itself to breed something highly fissile like 233U and to use the fission products to propel the ship.  That would, thermally, automatically provide power.  I'm sure there are other options, like 238Pu thermal generators.  The energy is there, if you're going to already push people to those insane speeds and over such distances.


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Dr. Stephen O. Nelson


I can answer most basic physics questions, physics questions about science fiction and everyday observations of physics, etc. I'm also usually good for science fair advice (I'm the regional science fair director). I do not answer homework problems. I will occasionally point out where a homework solution went wrong, though. I'm usually good at explaining odd observations that seem counterintuitive, energy science, nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, and alternative theories of physics are my specialties.


I was a physics professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, research in nuclear technology and nuclear astrophysics. My travelling science show saw over 20,000 students of all ages. I taught physics, nuclear chemistry, radiation safety, vacuum technology, and answer tons of questions as I tour schools encouraging students to consider careers in science. I moved on to a non-academic job with more research just recently.

Ph. D. from Duke University in physics, research in nuclear astrophysics reactions, gamma-ray astronomy technology, and advanced nuclear reactors.

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