CEA Starts New Studies On Nuclear For Space Exploration

CEA (Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux énergies alternatives, ENS Corporate Member) is going to start new feasibility studies on nuclear propulsion in space on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Nuclear propulsion, with its propulsive efficiency far superior to that of the chemical engines used today, could bring significant benefits and respond to Europe’s concern to ensure long-term missions in space, as CEA states in its press release.

  • The first project, called Alumni, is led by CEA with the support of ArianeGroup and Framatome (ENS Corporate Member). It concerns a nuclear thermal propulsion engine. Its concept is based on heating liquid hydrogen by passing it through the nuclear reactor, so as to transform it into gas and bring it to a high temperature, before ejecting it to generate thrust with two to three times greater efficiency than in a conventional chemical engine. Such a performance would thus make it possible to reduce the duration of the journey to Mars, CEA says.
  • The second project, RocketRoll, aims to study the feasibility of an electric nuclear propulsion system where the electricity produced by a nuclear reactor powers electric ion thrusters. Its principle consists of ionizing the gas and accelerating the ions produced, which are then ejected to generate thrust. Compared to conventional ion propulsion systems, powered by solar panels, this technology would offer higher thrust, independent of exposure to sunlight, and therefore of distance from it, so also simplifying the use of this propulsion for deep space exploration. This study will be carried out within a consortium of which the CEA is a member.

Read the full CEA Press Release (in French).

On September 2022, the European Nuclear Society High Scientific Council launched its Position Paper “Nuclear Energy for Space Exploration“, which focuses on the crucial role of nuclear energy and on nuclear solutions for deep space exploration.

The Position Paper, highly appreciated by the scientific community, has been presented at a special event, organised in Brussels under the Czech EU Presidency and in cooperation with the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic.

The event involved high-level stakeholders and expertsEU institutionsacademiaresearch institutes, and space industry representatives.

“Nuclear Energy for Space Exploration” has been recorded and is available on ENS YouTube Channel.