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Project Orion - from the Age of Atomics

Discussion in 'Science and Technology' started by Bob the Unbeliever, Jul 11, 2019.

  1. Bob the Unbeliever

    Bob the Unbeliever Well-Known Member

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    Back in the day, when the US and the USSR were in a serious space race, in the early days, scientists seriously put forth a type of rocket that used small atom bombs as propulsion. Roughly 5 Kton each, these were to be ejected beneath (behind) the space craft, and the detonation would push against a very heavy, reinforced plate, driving the craft onward.

    As crazy as it sounds? It would work, and indeed, test models using ordinary chemical explosives worked exactly as calculated.

    President Kennedy was eventually presented the results of these early experiments and calculations, including a proposed "atomic space battleship" using the Orion engine to boost into orbit, a "battleship" sized space craft armed with nuclear missiles and bombs. This horrified Kennedy, and eventually the entire project was canceled. As much because of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that Kennedy signed as anything else-- the treaty banned detonation of atmospheric atomic bombs, which pretty much ended the fundamental process of Orion.

    Several novels of Note, returned to this technological idea, two of my favorites are Orion Shall Rise by Poul Anderson, and Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

    What inspired this post? Was a quite well done YouTube video:

     
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  2. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest Greased up & ready for action!
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    I gave you a rating of <informative> because <horrifying> wasn't available.
     
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  3. beenherebeforeagain

    beenherebeforeagain Rogue Animist
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    Ah, yes! The Age of Technological Optimism! The era when nuclear power was going to solve all of humanity's problems, and we'd all be bright and shiny...and glow at night...
     
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  4. Bob the Unbeliever

    Bob the Unbeliever Well-Known Member

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    Well, to be sure-- human flesh cannot glow from radioactivity. With sufficient exposure, yes, some chemicals will glow via what is called secondary, or induced radioactivity. Most notably? Iron (steel).

    On the other hand? It could be that our teeth might be induced to glow, and perhaps our bones once the flesh dissolved from the intense radiation exposure.

    It's a classic Trope, that everything radioactive, also glows, but sadly, that's not the case. It would be incredibly useful, if it were true, as currently, humans are ill equipped to detect dangerous radiation, without the use of specialized instruments.

    I suppose a human could be said to glow-- briefly-- if quite near to the center of an atomic fireball. But, really, that would just be simple incandescence-- the same sort of thing you'd see if exposed to intense and overwhelming heat.

    Which, come to think about it more, is exactly what you'd get, that close to a nuclear blast: heat. Most of the released energy does come out as heat.

    Which is fortunate, really-- think what might have happened, if most of the energy came out as neutrons? Or gamma rays?
     
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  5. Bob the Unbeliever

    Bob the Unbeliever Well-Known Member

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    As for me? I'd ride in an Orion Rocket. Mainly because I expect that would be the safest place to be, in the event of a launch...

    See Niven & Pournelle's Footfall.
     
  6. Audie

    Audie Veteran Member

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    It would be the most spectacilar thing
    one could ever see.

    A launch from the moon, perhaps.

    Maybe we can get that.

    The Coca Cola Co. was, btw, consulted
    on design for the gadget dispenser.
     
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  7. Bob the Unbeliever

    Bob the Unbeliever Well-Known Member

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    As pointed out in the video? A launch in outer space-- perhaps a very high orbit, downwind of the Solar Wind (so that radioactive gasses would be blown past the earth, harmlessly into space) would pose no safety issues with earth.

    I could easily see interplanetary space ships using a modified Orion drive, perhaps coupled with a Solar Sail?
     
  8. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest Greased up & ready for action!
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    Bon voyage!
     
    #8 Revoltingest, Jul 11, 2019
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  9. Audie

    Audie Veteran Member

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    I didnt watch vid.
     
  10. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest Greased up & ready for action!
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    Going on a long trip?
    An ion drive powered by a nuclear reactor would be more efficient.
    And remember that as one nears one's destination, they must do
    a turn & burn to slow down for orbit &/or landing.
     
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  11. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Be your own guru

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    That is exciting. Where are we planning to go? ;)
    Proxima Centauri b (4.2 light-years, 1.3 parsecs, 40 trillion km, or 25 trillion miles).
    We should put all our energies in Teletransportation or 'Siddhis'.
    Prāpti: ability to be anywhere at will, manojavah: Moving the body wherever thought goes.
    Siddhi - Wikipedia

    Indian Moon-rover goes up in three days from now, July 15.
    https://www.isro.gov.in/gslv-mk-iii-chandrayaan-2-mission

    [​IMG]
     
    #11 Aupmanyav, Jul 11, 2019
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  12. Bob the Unbeliever

    Bob the Unbeliever Well-Known Member

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    Slow down? How fast were you going to go? ;)

    In truth, the Orion style engine is only considered "efficient" because it uses "nuclear fuel", which when compared with chemical fuel, is at least an order of magnitude more energy-dense.

    Likely, if ever someone creates an interplanetary Orion-type craft, chemical fuel would still be used to land, using a much smaller craft as a ferry.

    But yeah-- ion drive is a possibility. The fictional Discovery from 2001 used such an engine (if I remember-- may have been changed up from the movie, which came first), one reason why it was so very long-- to put the radiation at a fair remove from the crew and electronics.

    The problem with ion drives, is their impulse is quite low compared to other engines.
     
  13. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest Greased up & ready for action!
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    That would be a function of the trip length.
    Ion drives are low power, so acceleration is consequently low.
    But high speeds are achievable if there's sufficient total trip time
    for both long acceleration & equally long deceleration times.
    (This isn't anything I've quantified.)
    There are more efficient ways to use nuclear power.
    With the great cost/weight of putting something in space,
    energy efficiency is rather more important than speed for
    unmanned missions.
    As for manned missions....I say those are best avoided.
    They're extremely inefficient, & are becoming less & less
    useful compared to the increasingly sophisticated unmanned
    ones using AI & telepresence.
     
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  14. Bob the Unbeliever

    Bob the Unbeliever Well-Known Member

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    Indeed, I do agree with pretty much all of the points you raised.

    For longer trips, the limiting factor will be reaction mass, assuming nuclear power, more than anything else. Even an ion drive uses reaction mass, and indeed, the majority of ion drives are really low-power output plasma drives-- some material is ionized by the reactor, and shot out as plasma.

    Classic Science Fiction almost always used plasma type drives, although steam was nearly as popular. Both relied on nuclear power to generate plasma/steam.

    As for AI? Well, yes-- so long as you understand 100% of the possible problems, and can anticipate them all. Whereas humans are much better at problem solving things that were not anticipated. Aka Apollo 13 ...
     
  15. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest Greased up & ready for action!
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    Two good things....
    1) Hi efficiency means less reaction mass is needed than in a chemical system.
    2) I wager that reaction mass can be collected as the craft travels thru space.
    The advantage of AI is that we don't need to know all possible problems.
    Certainly, humans are better at general problem solving than computers.
    But this is rapidly changing so that the future lies with AI.
    No one ever thought that a computer could beat a top pro go player so
    soon....it was supposed to be decades away. But it's been a couple
    years now since AlphaGo beat Le Sedol. The techniques used in this
    AI program are applicable to more complex problems.
     
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