Helpful tips

Are there any nuclear satellites?

Are there any nuclear satellites?

More than 30 different nuclear-reactor-powered satellites still orbit the earth. The US launched only one while the USSR launched all the rest. Those nuclear reactors are similar to the ones in nuclear power plants on the ground.

How do nuclear-powered satellites work?

Nuclear thermal propulsion technology provides high thrust and twice the propellant efficiency of chemical rockets. The system works by transferring heat from the reactor to a liquid propellant. That heat converts the liquid into a gas, which expands through a nozzle to provide thrust and propel a spacecraft.

How much plutonium is in a satellite?

The United States does not use nuclear reactors in its satellites, but some future flights of the space shuttle are to carry satellites containing as much as 50 pounds of plutonium.

When did Cosmos 954 crash?

24 January 1978
On 24 January 1978, COSMOS 954, a Soviet nuclear-powered surveillance satellite, crashed in the Northwest Territories. The crash scattered an enormous amount of radioactivity over a 124,000 square kilometre area in Canada’s north, stretching southward from Great Slave Lake into northern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Why don’t we use nuclear power for space?

One big issue with nuclear power in space is that you need to discard the heat somehow, which for RTGs you can only do by radiating the heat. You end up having heat-radiating panels in place of solar panels, with substantially lower energy output per kilogram than solar panels, unless you are very far from Sun.

Is the Russian Sputnik satellite still in orbit?

It achieved an Earth orbit with an apogee (farthest point from Earth) of 940 km (584 miles) and a perigee (nearest point) of 230 km (143 miles), circling Earth every 96 minutes and remaining in orbit until January 4, 1958, when it fell back and burned in Earth’s atmosphere.

Do satellites use fuel?

A satellite orbiting closer to the Earth requires more velocity to resist the stronger gravitational pull. Satellites do carry their own fuel supply, but unlike how a car uses gas, it is not needed to maintain speed for orbit.

Does plutonium-238 glow?

A pellet of plutonium-238 oxide glows with heat generated by its radioactive decay. Such pellets are used as fuel in nuclear batteries known as radioisotope thermoelectric generators.

Where does NASA get its plutonium?

NASA cannot make its own plutonium; it relies on the DOE. In the early 2000s, after decades of decay, the national stockpile of useful Pu-238 was dwindling to crisis levels.