Atomos Space’s last mile satellite delivery service will run on nuclear fuel

Startups to watch: Atomos Space wants nuclear reactors to be operational in space for orbital transport.

  • The Denver-based startup, launched in 2017, navigates complicated US government regulations to test a low-power nuclear fission reactor called the neutrino space nuclear pathfinder in orbit, by Vice.
  • The Neutrino mission is part of a larger effort to provide “space tug” services to guide satellites to their destination orbits after launchcurrently hampered by energy supply constraints in space.
  • Atomos’ nuclear transit technology would also provide satellite recovery, relocation, disposal, life extension and space logistics services, according to the company’s website.
  • SpaceNukes and X-energyin the same way Nasa and DARPAare also working on the development of space nuclear reactors.

How we got here: Fear nuclear weapons deployed in space and concerns about nuclear safety have derailed decades of planning to use the power source for orbital activities. However, the private space industryThe rise of and approaching plans for longer duration space travel have spurred demand for energy solutions.

  • The only nuclear fission reactor the United States has ever sent into space dates back to 1965.
  • In the 1980s, the Soviet Union’s nuclear space reactor contaminated northern Canada with radioactive debris, likely fueling concerns that stalled plans in the United States.
  • But in December 2020, the Trump administration released a National Strategy for Space Nuclear Energy and Propulsionclarifying the rules of technology and paving the way for companies like Atomos Space.
  • A statement of Atomos’ main investor, Canto Venturesaffirm that current last-mile satellite delivery is very slow due to energy limitations, and that nuclear propulsion will be required for humans to become a multiplanetary species.
  • “Current propulsion technologies are evolutionary dead ends and cannot scale in the future space economy,” Atomos Space said. CEO Vanessa Clarkby Space News.

The Opportunity: Space nuclear reactors may be one of the easiest ways to generate energy in space compared to the technical hurdles of space solar panels.

  • A reliable power supply for space activities could be the key to accelerating progress in satellite recovery and space exploration.
  • With Earth’s orbit becoming increasingly crowded, nuclear propulsion could help prevent collisions that cause space debris.

A long-standing problem: In addition to the risk of accidents, nuclear fission reactors have an inherent problem with waste.

  • Although radioactivity is considerably less with low-enriched uranium, the problem of what to do with spent fuel in space remains.
  • Avalanche energy designs is working on it, but more investment is needed in space nuclear fusion reactors to solve the waste problem.
  • Plasmawhich is abundant in space, holds promise for both nuclear fusion and rocket propulsion, and could improve the power and efficiency of space travel.

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