Nuclear-Powered Spaceship To Explore Jupiter
Jupiter is one of the most fascinating planets in our galaxy, and scientists believe the best way to explore the gas giant maybe through using a nuclear-powered spaceship.
Researchers from Sofia University in Bulgaria have conducted a study that makes a case for a nuclear-powered vessel to study Jupiter. The study has yet to be peer-reviewed, but it outlines how the atmosphere of Jupiter would support a subatmospheric craft that is powered by nuclear energy.
If this technology does move forward, it could radically alter the exploration of Jovian planets.
Jovian planets have an atmosphere that is primarily made up of hydrogen and helium and this means that crafts not too dissimilar to planes could be used to fly in the atmosphere of the planet.
The study explained how such crafts could operate:
Among the planets of the Solar System and their satellites, Jupiter is a viable target for exploration, since it features thick atmosphere suitable for aerodynamic flight, there is no solid surface that can be contaminated after end of the mission, and the atmospheric data for designing a Flyer is readily available.
Equipping the Flyer with nuclear propulsion will allow it to conduct flight for months without the need of combustible fuel or oxidizer to be carried onboard.
While the fact that a flyer that is similar to a plane on Earth could be used to explore Jupiter is a revelation in itself, using nuclear energy could also change the way we approach space travel.
Jupiter is too far away from the sun for solar energy or combustion to be a suitable way to get to the planet. However, nuclear-based power would offer an alternative which would allow fuel to be delivered for months or years.
The benefits of using nuclear energy were detailed in the study:
The nuclear fuel has extremely high energy density that allows for months, if not years, of sustainable flight before the fuel is depleted. Unlike chemical combustion, the nuclear reaction does not rely on oxygen to produce heat. This enables flight in anaerobic atmospheres and without the need of carrying oxidizer.
The study concludes that the vessel could simply crash land into the giant gas planet because there is no hard surface to cause a reaction.
With that said, this may be one of the elements that may be explored further, primarily because crashing a nuclear-powered machine into a planet could have unforeseen consequences.
Nonetheless, this study could mark an important step forward in the study of space.
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