Russia Is Testing A New Nuclear Spaceship To Beat SpaceX & Elon Musk
00:00 - 00:12 Introduction
00:12 - 01:04 Why Does Russia Want to Get to Mars
01:04 - 03:31 How Nuclear Power works & Differences in Power
03:31 - 05:05 The Risks of Nuclear Energy
05:05 - 06:26 Will Russia Archive Their Goal Anytime Soon?
06:26 - 07:59 Should SpaceX Consider Using Nuclear-Powered Rockets?
07:59 - 09:06 Conclusion
Elon Musk has been very vocal about wanting to get humans to Mars with his Starship, but Russia has made it clear they have plans to try and get there first with their own spaceship--a nuclear-powered one.
Why Does Russia Want to Get to Mars
Why Russia has begun promoting its efforts to get a base on the Moon or get humans to Mars in recent years doesn’t have an exact answer. It could be that seeing an American company such as SpaceX designing and preparing impressive rockets has brought back memories of the space race for Russia. There may be a financial motivation as having the technology to go to Mars would be quite impressive and result in lots of monetary backing from others. Perhaps it is just pride as Russia still remembers how the Soviet Union got beat to the Moon by America and having a private American company get to Mars first would be another metaphorical slap in the face. Whatever the reason, Russia wants to get to Mars, and has plans to use different technology to power its rockets than has ever been seen before. They want to use nuclear power.
Differences in Power
SpaceX rockets do not use nuclear power, in fact, no current rockets do. SpaceX rockets actually use methane with oxygen mixed-in as their propellant. Many rockets before SpaceX used either a kerosene blend--and SpaceX actually used kerosene as well up until methane rockets were developed in 2007. Some spaceships have used hydrogen in the past as well. Methane rockets have served SpaceX well and seem to be the best fuel option for the future of spaceflight for the company. It also has been useful because it can be used to refuel ships in space. Roughly half of all the energy expended traveling to anywhere in the solar system such as the Moon or Mars is spent just getting into the orbit of Earth. If you can refuel a SpaceX starship while it is in orbit then it can theoretically go anywhere in the Solar System if you give it enough time. Why would a Russian spaceship use nuclear power then?
Well, Russia has claimed nuclear rockets have been in the works since 2009 and supposedly could operate at such a speed they’d get humans to Mars in a matter of weeks than months. The idea is not using carbon-based fuel would result in a faster and cleaner rocket. Nuclear rockets have been kicked around as an idea for more than half a century with the idea that the massive energy generated by a nuclear bomb could be put toward a peaceful use such as launching a rocket at mind-blowing speed. Nuclear thermal rockets have had designs drawn up and theories made, but they’ve not actually been made. Now, rockets with thermonuclear bombs have been made by the thousands and were the main focal point of the Cold War between America and the then Soviet Union. Many intercontinental rockets were produced with nuclear payloads that could have ended life on Earth a hundred times over, but those were nuclear payloads, not rockest that were themselves powered by nuclear energy in a manner without a focus on destroying Earth. While nuclear-powered rockets were always considered, Russia revisiting them has a bit of an, “Everything old is new again,” feeling to it. Now, if Russia could get such a thing to work, safely, that would be quite impressive. Nuclear energy has a history that is questionable at best, however.
The Risks of Nuclear Energy
Despite how it was promoted as clean and safe energy, Nuclear power is arguably one of the most dangerous kinds around. If an oil rig explodes it pollutes the ocean for years, if a nuclear plant has an issue, however, it’ll be centuries before the area is safe to be lived in again. One only needs to look at famous catastrophes such as Russia’s own Chernobyl reactor or what happened in Japan’s Fukushima for living proof of the risks that nuclear energy can bring. Now, imagine a nuclear-powered rocket launching from Earth and what would happen if something went wrong. When a SpaceX rocket crashes it leaves some debris, a nuclear rocket smashing to pieces would render the accident location and miles or kilometers around it totally uninhabitable. Plus, suppose a nuclear-powered rocket were to successfully launch but then suffer an issue that causes it to fall from the sky before achieving orbit and crash back into another part of Earth? The entire planet would be at risk of having a nuclear crater left from such an accident. A nuclear-powered rocket malfunctioning and explosively crashing into New York City would be a tragedy of unimaginable proportions, after all.