Ultra Safe Nuclear Selected to Develop High Delta-V Nuclear Small Spacecraft Prototype
Analysis Will Inform Development of Fastest Spacecraft Ever Built
Ultra Safe Nuclear has been selected by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to begin the initial stages of a multi-phased research effort for the Nuclear Advanced Propulsion and Power (NAPP) program. The project will evaluate the challenges and potential solutions associated with the development of a highly maneuverable spacecraft that can operate independently from the sun.
“Nuclear tech has traditionally been government-developed and operated, but we have discovered a thriving ecosystem of commercial companies, including start-ups, innovating in space nuclear," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Ryan Weed, Program Manager for the NAPP program at DIU.
Ultra Safe Nuclear will develop a concept for radioisotope-powered spacecraft with greater than 10 km/s of delta-V, many times greater than today’s small spacecraft propulsion systems. Advanced nuclear fuels capable of providing over one million kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy in just a few kilograms will be evaluated as part of the project, as will the power conversion and supporting propulsion apparatus essential to development of high delta-V small spacecraft.
“Radioisotopes have been used for decades in space, but we are scaling them up and incorporating electric propulsion into the system,” stated Adam Schilffarth, Director of Strategy, Advanced Technologies Division. “We believe this combination will yield a spacecraft with unprecedented maneuverability and sun-independence.”
“Rather than using plutonium-238, we are adapting materials from the medical radioisotope industry,” explained Dr. Christopher Morrison, Chief Engineer for Radioisotopes, Advanced Technologies Division. “This approach offers a technically viable, cost-effective path toward sustainable commercialization.”