China reveals nuclear lunar rover
Heading for the moon in 2012
China is planning to send a nuclear powered rover to the moon in 2012 on its first unmanned mission to our natural satellite.
Several technology institutes across the country are competing to develop the vehicle, although there is no word on when the official selection will be made. In what seems to be a bid to get the edge on their competitors, engineers at the Shanghai Institute demonstrated their prototype to the press this week.
The vehicle, as yet unnamed, will roll over the lunar surface on six wheels. Shanghai Daily reports that the rover is 1.5 metres tall and weighs in at 200kg. The paper adds that it should be able to transmit video in real time, dig, collect, and analyse soil samples, and produce 3D images of the lunar surface.
Shanghai Institute director Luo Jian says: "We want it to be better than the early US rovers," according to reports.
The rover will be able to roll at a top speed of 100 metres per hour, and will be equipped with sensors to stop it crashing into things.
Researchers say they still need to refine the rover's ability to withstand the rigours of the lunar environment: low gravity, extreme temperatures, and exposure to cosmic rays are all engineering challenges.
Although the notion of strapping nuclear material to a rocket and hoping it doesn't explode on its way to space sounds a bit risky, it isn't a new idea. The first nuclear powered satellite, Transit 4A, was launched in 1961 and until the Columbia disaster in 2003, NASA had been pushing hard to expand the use of nuclear power in space.
The space agency estimated that the chance of something going wrong on a nuclear satellite launch hovered at around one in 230. In the event of an explosion, people downwind of the launch site for up to 60 miles could be affected by nuclear material, the most serious risk from inhalation of "small quantities of radionuclides".
Once in space, away from handy plug-in chargers, the options for power are fairly limited. If solar won't do it, the only realistic alternative is a nuclear power source. Advocates argue that nuclear power in space is vital for long term exploration projects.
The idea of a nuclear stage for launch rockets was also considered seriously for a while. The numbers never quite stacked, however, and the idea was abandoned. ®
Nicholas Wright, you might want to look up at the other comments for a bit and find that this was already explained. No matter what happens, that nuclear powerplant on the rover cannot explode. Similarly, since it is a solid piece of material, it can't leak and even if it did, the radiation released that way would be utterly unnoticeable compared to background radiation.
As for the issue of it explode on launch, it's not good, but compared to even a single nuclear test, it's hardly measurable. We could detonate hundreds of rovers on their way up the atmosphere and there still wouldn't be any problem. The only issue is for those directly in the rover's path while it is still at low altitudes, especially if it uses polonium or a similar extremely dangerous material.
As Mad as M.Madman in a mad day at bonkersville
"China is planning to send a nuclear powered rover to the moon in 2012 on its first unmanned mission to our natural satellite."
So ... everyone can then relax a bit and forget those
complicated issues of global warming then, since this
bunch of morons will have, by then, rendered the whole
atmostphere brighter than it ever was at night, and
warmer than anything from current predictions .
And if we are lucky, they might even screw the Moon, so
remains only Mars to inhabitate !
Close but not quite .... nuclear space power.
Space vehicles that use nuclear power don't use reactors in the conventional sense that eveyone is generally familiar with. There is no boiler, turbines and generator coil or any othe moving parts.
The thing is pretty much a battery and is always running so there is no on/off switch per se. The basic design is a central core of some radionucleotide in the shape of a rod surrounded by a material to slow down the particles released by the radionucleotides natural decay. Within this matrix are alternating conductive plates, either as radiating outwards in a starburst pattern or a series of closely packed disks. These become the poles of your nuclear powered battery. More along the lines of a nuclear charged capacitor than a storage battery but you get my drift.
Since the format is pretty much a cannister, it can be reasonably hardened against catastrophe .... unfortunatelly such hardening costs weight/payload ... which is at a premium and cost $$$ ... guess which wins out?