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Potential Improvements to the Nuclear Safety and Launch Approval Process for Nuclear Reactors Utilized for Space Power and Propulsion ApplicationsThis study examines potential improvements that could be made to the nuclear safety and launch approval process for fission reactors to reduce the associated uncertainties in cost and schedule while continuing to ensure public safety and environmental protection. It concentrates on the launch approval and mission safety of fission power and propulsion applications of nuclear energy. Improvements to the launch approval process for radioisotope power systems (RPSs) are being considered elsewhere but are acknowledged throughout the report. The study considered technical, process, and organizational improvements to the launch approval processes. The study exclusively evaluated reactors that would not be started up prior to achieving a “sufficiently high orbit,” per United Nations (UN) Resolution 47/68.Potential criticality accidents were considered that could occur during a launch failure or abort or during reentry. Numerous scenarios were examined that might involve one or more Earth flybys as well as potential transportation missions that could intentionally return an active, or previously active fission reactor to Earth orbit. The Study Group was guided in its deliberations according to a number of fundamental principles. These included the paramount importance of adequate and appropriate levels of public safety and environmental protection as well as the importance of the inclusion of independent scientific, engineering, and safety reviews of the applications and proposals as a critical part of the process. Also considered was the need for the development of launch approval processes that might be different, depending upon the source of the application for launch approval, whether it be derived as a governmental launch, a commercial launch, or a hybrid/combination of the two. It is clear that all launches of nuclear reactors into space should have similar safety requirements; however, the safety review effort and the details of the analysis that are required should be commensurate with the potential hazards and the actual risk, which may differ based on the reactor design and its intended purpose. Finally, the study aimed at ensuring that whatever processes and procedures are developed should maximize the sufficiency, simplicity, and transparency of the processes. The Study Group reached five Conclusions and makes thirteen Recommendations. The Conclusions and Recommendations presented here are extensions of those presented previously in other studies. This report attempts to add specificity to the actions that need to be taken in order to move forward with successful space fission reactor programs. Without action to address the perceived and real problems in the launch approval process, designers and mission managers will be reluctant to commit the resources necessary to make space fission reactors a reality.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Langley Research Center
Document Type
Technical Memorandum (TM)
Camp, Allen
(Consultant Albuquerque, NM)
Klein, Andy
(Oregon State Univ. Corvallis, OR, United States)
McClure, Patrick
(Los Alamos National Laboratory Los Alamos, NM, United States)
McCallum, Pete
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
Voss, Susan
(Global Nuclear Network Analysis, LLC Taos, NM)
Date Acquired
March 12, 2019
Publication Date
February 1, 2019
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion And Power
Report/Patent Number
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 869021.
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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