NASA talks Strategy for Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion

On Wednesday, December 16, President Trump issued Space Policy Directive-6 (SPD-6) outlining America's strategy for Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion (SNPP). The plan outlines space nuclear systems power for spacecraft on missions where alternative power sources are inadequate. This type of power would be used in environments that are too dark for solar power or that are too far from Earth to allow spacecraft to carry sufficient quantities of chemical fuels.Space nuclear power systems include radioisotope power systems and nuclear reactors used for power, heating, or propulsion. NASA says SPD-6 establishes the high-level goals, principles, and a supporting roadmap demonstrating the US commitment to using SNPP safely, effectively, and responsibly. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine says that the agency supports the White House's continued leadership on the Artemis program.

He also said that SPD-6 helps the agency develop affordable, safe, and reliable nuclear systems. The near-term priority for NASA is to mature and demonstrate a fission surface power system on the Moon. NASA is aiming to demonstrate this type of system on the moon in the late 2020s.

NASA says this type of system could provide power for sustainable lunar surface operations and will allow the system to be tested for potential use on Mars. Principles established by SPD-6 include the development of advanced radioisotope power systems for both survivable surface systems and extended robotic exploration of the solar system. NASA says the US will adhere to principles of safety, security, and sustainability, and the development and use of SNPP systems.

NASA plans to advance nuclear thermal and nuclear electric propulsion capabilities, enabling robust human exploration beyond the moon. NASA notes that for sending humans to Mars, traditional chemical propulsion systems require prohibitively high propellant mass. In other words, it seems as if nuclear propulsion is the only way humans will ever go to the Red Planet.