Russia hopes nuclear ship will fly humans to Mars

October 29, 2009 By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV , Associated Press Writer

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev inspects a piece of equipment at a facility in Fryazino, outside Moscow, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. Medvedev urged his government to find resources for building a prospective nuclear-powered spaceship. (AP Photo/ RIA Novosti, Vladimir Rodionov, Presidential Press Service)
(AP) -- Russia should build a new nuclear-powered spaceship for prospective manned missions to Mars and other planets, the nation's space chief said Thursday.

Anatoly Perminov first proposed building the ship at a government meeting Wednesday but didn't explain its purpose. President Dmitry Medvedev backed the project and urged the government to find the money.

In remarks posted Thursday on his agency's Web site, Perminov said the nuclear spaceship should be used for human flights to and other planets. He said the project is challenging technologically, but could capitalize on the Soviet and Russian experience in the field.

Perminov said the preliminary design could be ready by 2012, and then it would take nine more years and cost 17 billion rubles (about $600 million, or euro400 million) to build the ship.

"The project is aimed at implementing large-scale exploration programs, including a to Mars, interplanetary travel, the creation and operation of planetary outposts," Perminov's Web statement said.

The ambitious plans contrast with Russia's slow progress on building a replacement to its mainstay spacecraft - the Soyuz.

Russia is using Soyuz booster rockets and capsules, developed 40 years ago, to send crews to the International Space Station. The development of a replacement rocket and a prospective spaceship with a conventional propellant has dragged on with no end in sight.

Despite its continuing reliance on the old technology, Russia stands to take a greater role in space exploration in the coming years. NASA's plan to retire its fleet next year will force the United States and other nations to rely on the Russian spacecraft to ferry their astronauts to and from the International Space Station until NASA's new manned ship becomes available.

Perminov said the new nuclear-powered ship should have a megawatt-class , as opposed to small nuclear reactors that powered some Soviet military satellites. The Cold War-era Soviet spy satellites had reactors that produced just a few kilowatts of power and had a life span of about a year.

Igor Lisov, a Moscow-based expert on Russian space program, said the prospective ship would use a to run an electric rocket engine.

"It will be quite efficient for flight to Mars," he told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Lisov said Soviet work on a nuclear-powered electric rocket engine dates back to the 1960s when Soviet engineers began developing plans for a manned flight to Mars.

He said Russia's experience in building nuclear-powered satellites would also help develop the new spaceship. "It will require a significantly more powerful nuclear reactor, but the task is quite realistic," Lisov said.

Stanley Borowski, a senior engineer at NASA specializing in nuclear rocket engines, said they have many advantages for missions, such as to take astronauts and gear to Mars. In deep space, nuclear rockets are twice as fuel-efficient as conventional rockets, he said.

NASA has used small amounts of plutonium in deep space probes, including those to Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto and heading out of the solar system.

The only planetary mission currently considered by Russia is a plan to send a probe to one of Mars' twin moons, Phobos. It was set to launch this year, but was delayed.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 29, 2009
Excellent news thats just what we need. I heard that the U.S Ad Astra Rocket Compagny with there "plasma rocket engine" VASIMR reached the 200Kw limit. Thats just enough to travel to Mars in 39 days!


Nasa will use this propulsion technology in 2012-2013. So Russia can not left behind.
Oct 29, 2009
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4.7 / 5 (6) Oct 29, 2009
That would be great is Russia went! It's exciting to hear we're planning on manned missions to Mars, I'm waiting for the day :D

I was just wondering: why don't they have this universal space station/science lab/etc. and each country can contribute to it (so it's planning a manned mission to Mars -- all countries donate some money therefore the burden on just one country is lightened) and then everyone who participates gets credit for first mission to Mars instead of us fighting over the spot (like the Space Race during the cold war).
So instead of "USA went to Mars" it's "The Earth made it to Mars" O.o ...maybe?
3 / 5 (2) Oct 29, 2009
go russia! This news comes just as I put a youtube of the sputnik 1(and some succeeding sputnik flights involving dogs!) on my blog! So, this is kindof ironic and cool at the same time!
3 / 5 (4) Oct 29, 2009
i actually saw a small note about russia's interest in a nuclear powered flight to mars at spacedaily; still, this article here gives strength to the 'rumor.'

. . . go russia! Lets have a red flag on the red planet first! Hopefully, you guys/gals settle there as well! Tap those infinit resources without destroying living ecosystems(not likely on mars or various asteroids); and free energy! whew hew! Somebody clearly is thinking better than others here! And it's those scientific russians!

Full speed ahead!
4.6 / 5 (5) Oct 29, 2009
Good idea Birthmark!

Cooperation and coordination should really be the way ahead as demonstrated at CERN. It is so wasteful of resources to have various nations all expending resources to achieve the same end.
3 / 5 (5) Oct 29, 2009
The present US administration is against space flight and space science so I hope Russia does this and sparks another space race. The west and the USA in particular needs a kick in the pants.
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 29, 2009
AMERICANS have already filed patents on this
technology which is recognised by AIAA.

Search for "Advanced Linear Electron Beam Phased Propulsion"
3 / 5 (6) Oct 29, 2009
AMERICANS have already filed patents on this
technology which is recognised by AIAA.

Search for "Advanced Linear Electron Beam Phased Propulsion"

Are you saying...that they should be sued for making one??? (if so...what a typically American thing to say!) I for one applaud them for overcoming great obstacles, and wish them nothing but success! They were on the moon long before the U.S. (robotically-speaking of course) but never got their just recognition.
Oct 29, 2009
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4 / 5 (1) Oct 29, 2009
Someone should forward this to Obama, but I doubt he would take it seriously. Would be ironic if Russia with it's languishing economy leap-frogged the US in space flight with a cheap Nuclear rocket. Although the problem with a Nuclear electric spaceship like Medvedev proposes is that you have to get it into space. If they wanted to use a Nuclear rocket to get it into space it would break the nuclear test ban treaty they signed. Which is also the reason the US doesn't already have nuclear rockets.
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 30, 2009
Launch from earth is always going to be powered by conventional rockets. No nuclear propulsion system can overcome earth's gravity, just yet. Once in-orbit, you can break away from it and head towards Mars by using this nuclear powered thing.
1 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2009
The cosmic radiation problem still needs to be overcome, during the journey. How does a nuclear engine propel a spaceship? The reaction products would not be enough momentum in a vector course.
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 30, 2009
We can put this reactor on the ISS. Then we can attach a VASIMR engine to the ISS, powered by this reactor. Then, we can send the whole station to mars orbit - we could get there in 3.9 days with this technology!
not rated yet Oct 30, 2009
I don't believe we can get to mars in 39 days, it seems to good to be true.
I think it would be strategic to pour everything into space elevator development, then you have a work horse to build the ship (amongst many other things) in space with a nuclear engine, both should be international co-operative efforts.

Go the Russians!
1 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2009
If the nuclear engine is transported to orbit in a chemical rocket and bolted on to a ship there, I see no Chernobyl redeux, except in the minds of sissies!
not rated yet Oct 30, 2009
How much energy does the reactor, (which can be assembled in space from different launch vehicles delivering the components separately), need to produce to power an EM field generator to shield the ship during its voyage(s)? Would just one reactor be a good idea - shouldn't they build two for fault tolerence? If Russia is really going for it, will they accept help from other governments, such as China, India and Europe, to build a large reusable craft?

1 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2009
Yes we must have two ships for the fault tolerance. We can have a Russian one with a Vladimr engine and an American one with a Vasimr engine. They could then get to Mars in under 3.9 days.
Oct 30, 2009
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5 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2009
You guys are amazing. Clearly, these comments are from an international crowd. First, kudos to the Russians playing to their strengths by pursuing a technology they already have a lead in of some sort. However, I'm pretty sure that once the US decides it needs to do this, they will throw an enormous amount of resources toward it. Better yet, it will probably be a private company who unlocks a cheaper/faster way to make it happen. Gotta run now.

tom p
Oct 30, 2009
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4 / 5 (1) Oct 31, 2009
I was 10 when I saw the full nuclear (magneto-ion) project in the Kiev Planetarium. I am 51 now. Still talking and issuing directives. Get together and be serious! The estimates either assume that almost all work is done or someone can't count the money.
not rated yet Oct 31, 2009
Link to the Russian Nuclear Rocket Engine RD0410 tested in 80s: http://www.kbkha....;prod=66

Oct 31, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
not rated yet Oct 31, 2009
The RD0410 Russian nuclear rocket engine uses liquid hydrogen for propellant, the reactor which weighs at 2 tons has a 196 MWatt power output and the thrust is around 35 kilo newtons, around the same thrust as a jet engine. In this configuration it can burn for about 60 minutes. For comparison, VASIMR (last I checked) has a thrust rating of more than 300 kilo newtons. That's a whole lot more thrust.

Now, the Russians do make good nuclear reactors. A 200 MWatt reactor is needed to power the VASIMR engine. So it makes perfect sense to combine the two. I also believe that with enough funding the Russians can make their own version of the VASIMR, it is not a new concept.

They would need to pull some new tech out of their rear, and I'm sure it's possible with enough funding, I just don't think they are going to actually get funded, which is quite sad. Russian mentality = "don't fix it till it breaks", that's why they still fly in the Soyuz, simply because it still works for them.
5 / 5 (1) Oct 31, 2009
The CrossFire Fusor is a more promising technology:
not rated yet Nov 01, 2009
No VASIMR based drive, currently in existence or planned,
has a thrust of more than FIVE newtons, not 300 kilonewtons. Specific impulse is around 6000 seconds.

NERVA managed 72 kilonewtons, with a specific impulse of
about 875 seconds, in the 1970s. I think the design
burn time was 20 hours.

By contrast, the Space Shuttle engines have a specific
impulse of 453, and the solid boosters of between 240 and

However, the solid rocket boosters are good for
FIVE MILLION newtons of thrust. The space shuttle
engines are good for less than ONE MILLION newtons
of thrust. Russian RD0410 is good for less than one
28th of the space shuttle thrust. The best VASIMR
thruster is good for one SEVEN THOUSANDTH of the

See the trend? Thrust is inversely proportional to efficiency.
Find that inflection point on that curve, and apply it to Mars.

There's an unimplemented thermal/fusion drive between
the fission drive and the chemical drive, but it's silly
to talk about it now.
not rated yet Nov 01, 2009
Data on NERVA is
Burn time time of a NERVA engine is 20 minutes due to fast degradation of the active zone of this high power engine. The nuclear reactor of RD0410 is still working.
All developments, including the Russian one, are only research stage devices.
not rated yet Nov 01, 2009
Data on VASIMR: http://www.adastr...IMR.html
VASIMR it is a project on a plasma engine, i.e. it is different from NERVA and RD0410. It requires a nuclear power source. The most powerful ones was Russian space-tested TOPAZ (http://www.redsta...ear.htm) bought by the USA in 90s. It has the electric power 150 kW. Space flights require 5-15 Mw, minimum.
not rated yet Nov 01, 2009
The CrossFire Fusor is unbeatable in terms of performance.
This nuclear fusion reactor could provide an Isp of over 1 million seconds.
not rated yet Nov 01, 2009
"NASA's plan to retire its shuttle fleet next year will force the United States and other nations to rely on the Russian spacecraft to ferry their astronauts to and from the International Space Station until NASA's new manned ship becomes available."

This ignores the existence of SpaceX.
1 / 5 (1) Nov 02, 2009
Do SpaceX use VASECTMR engines?
Nov 02, 2009
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1 / 5 (1) Nov 02, 2009
I agree - going to Mars in 3.9 days because of a 1KW VASIMR engine would reveal the 21st century's true world leader.
2.7 / 5 (3) Nov 02, 2009
So much hype over space exploration these days...From what I gather, this space chief of theirs is just making a few suggestions, throwing in some buzzwords, some numbers etc. I don't see any actual solutions or designs.

I don't know the guy, he may very well be a very smart, well-intentioned fellow, but he's asking the government of a country that has an average life expectancy of 50-something years, more alcohol related deaths than anywhere on the planet, serious corruption problems, a very weak economy(for a country with massive resources), has recently been involved in a territorial war and generally isn't doing too well domestically, to spend 400 mil. euros(seriously? is there a discount shop I'm not aware of?) on speculative technologies with little short to mid-term gain.

Seriously, why the bloody hell does everyone think that getting to Mars will solve all of Earth's problems? Let's prove we can sustain ourselves on one planet before we start f*cking up outer space.
not rated yet Nov 02, 2009
kasen, you beat me to it... $600M? If he can get a manned mission to Mars on that budget, I vote we hire him for NASA.

Just find a rich space tourist to finance the trip for you... Bill Gates could afford to fly there dozens of times
Nov 02, 2009
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Nov 03, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
1 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2009
$600M for a manned Mars mission? I think you will find you could only get a bargain like that if you use VASIMR technology

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