Russia Wants to Fly to Mars in Just 45 Days...Using Nukes

By Gerald Lynch on at

Even if we could make it up there, it's currently a one-way trip to Mars, and a long one at that. Current propulsion technologies mean following an estimated 18-month journey, any travellers to the Red Planet would arrive with too little fuel to make a return journey. But Russian engineers believe they may have the answer - nuclear power.

Rosatom, the Russian national nuclear corporation, announced last week that it intends to build a nuclear engine prototype by 2025, capable of producing enough energy in forceful-enough quantities to not only get astronauts to Mars and back, but to cut the length of each leg of the journey to just 45 days.

While Rosatom has yet to divulge precisely how its engine would work, it would likely use principles of thermal fission, splitting atoms and burning hydrogen and other chemicals to power the flight. Though it's development would be expensive, its deployment could be very cost effective - it's simply too expensive to transport and use enough fuel required for a return trip to Mars.

But Rosatom's budget seems a bit off - just 15 billion rubles, or just under a tenth of what the rocket in NASA's Space Launch System alone cost to develop.

“A nuclear contraption should not be too far off, not too complicated,” reckons Nikolai Sokov, senior fellow at California's James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey.

“The really expensive thing will be designing a ship around these things.”

So the rationale here seems to be one of early financing - getting backers on board to help the Russian space dream come to fruition. And, thanks to the Cold War, both the Americans and Russians have already laid the ground work for such a system, with fission powered satellites (such as the Rorsat pictured above) developed and launched through the 1960s and into the 1980s. Though nuclear-powered launches bring their own dangers (you DEFINITELY wouldn't want one of these falling into your back garden...or street...or borough...or city...), but it'd be one way of allaying fears currently holding back the pioneering spirit of Mars exploration. [Wired]