Thursday, October 29, 2009

Russian space chief proposes nuclear spaceship

Updated on Thursday, October 29, 2009

MOSCOW: Russia's space agency is planning to build a new spaceship with a nuclear engine, its chief said Wednesday.

Anatoly Perminov told a government meeting Wednesday that the preliminary design could be ready by 2012. He said it will then take nine more years and 17 billion rubles ($600 million, 400 million euros) to build the ship.

"The implementation of this project will allow us to reach a new technological level surpassing foreign developments," Perminov told a meeting which focused on communications and space technologies.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged the Cabinet to consider providing the necessary funding.

"It's a very serious project," Medvedev said. "We need to find the money."

Perminov's ambitious statement contrasted with the current state of the Russian space program, and sounded more like a plea for extra government funds than a detailed proposal.

Russia is using 40-year old Soyuz booster rockets and capsules to send crews to the International Space Station. Development of a replacement rocket and a prospective spaceship with a conventional propellant has dragged on with no end in sight.

Perminov described the proposed spaceship as a "unique breakthrough project," but offered few details.

He said that the ship will have a megawatt-class nuclear reactor, as opposed to small nuclear reactors that powered Soviet satellites. The Cold-War era Soviet spy satellites had reactors which produced just a few kilowatts of power and had a lifespan of just about a year.

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