Russian nuclear powered missile - real or fake?

#1
Assuming this is an apocalypse missile then 'very dangerous' isn't really a problem for the designers (or at least the surviving designers).

I can't see how this thing might work. Any 'isotope' liberating the required amount of energy would be of a very short half-life which leaves some form of fission energy source - and something (water/steam?) to send out the back to propel the thing forwards. Any ideas how this might work? Or is it fake news?


https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-49319160

Five Russian nuclear engineers who died in a rocket engine explosion have been buried in Sarov, a closed town 373km (232 miles) east of Moscow, where nuclear warheads are made.

The Russian state nuclear agency, Rosatom, said the experts had been testing a nuclear-powered engine. But it gave no further technical details

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-49319160
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#2
(Aug 12, 2019 09:49 PM)confused2 Wrote: I can't see how this thing might work. Any 'isotope' liberating the required amount of energy would be of a very short half-life which leaves some form of fission energy source - and something (water/steam?) to send out the back to propel the thing forwards. Any ideas how this might work? Or is it fake news?

According to Wikipedia, the US experimented with two different designs way back in the late 1940's/early 1950's. (The 'Wild and Crazy' era of engineering that eventually moved us from the first Earth satellites in 1957 to a manned landing on the Moon in 1969.) The advantage of a nuclear jet engine is that its range is essentially unlimited, a nuclear aircraft can fly around the Earth repeatedly without refueling. The downsides are obvious.

One design was a jet engine with a nuclear fission reactor where a normal jet's combustion chamber would be. So air is sucked in the front through a turbine, flows right through the reactor where it's heated while simultaneously cooling the reactor, then is expelled out the back through another turbine. Good and bad. Good is simplicity. Bad is that this engine's exhaust is seriously radioactive.

The other design also used a fission reactor, except this time with a heat exchanger. Water or liquid metal or something would flow through the reactor, get heated, then flow through the heat exchanger where it heats the air flowing through the jet engine. Good and bad. Good is that most of the radioactivity is contained within the heat-exchanger loop. Bad is complexity.

Then in the late 1950's/early 1960's the US experimented with a third wild-and-crazy idea called Project Pluto, a nuclear powered ramjet to power a cruise missile called SLAM (Supersonic Low Altitude Missile). Project Pluto was cancelled in 1964 because it was felt that ICBMs had rendered SLAMs unnecessary.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aircraft_N...Propulsion

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear-powered_aircraft

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pluto

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supersonic...de_Missile

This is the American closed-loop heat-exchanger nuclear turbojet. It still exists and can be seen at the Idaho National Laboratory (formerly the Nuclear Reactor Test Station):


[Image: HTRE-3.jpg]


Project Pluto's nuclear powered ramjet (Developed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's R-Division) photographed at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site where it was apparently felt that its radioactive exhaust wouldn't be a problem.


[Image: Tory_II-C_nuclear_ramjet_engine.jpg]
 

Quote:Five Russian nuclear engineers who died in a rocket engine explosion have been buried in Sarov, a closed town 373km (232 miles) east of Moscow, where nuclear warheads are made.

The Russian state nuclear agency, Rosatom, said the experts had been testing a nuclear-powered engine. But it gave no further technical details.

It sounds to me like the Russians might be working on a revived and updated version of Project Pluto. While ICBMs may have rendered Project Pluto obsolete in 1964, the subsequent development of anti-missile defenses may have created conditions where Moscow believes that nuclear-powered unlimited-range hypersonic cruise-missiles would be harder for the US to intercept than ballistic missile warheads.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9M730_Burevestnik
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#3
(Aug 12, 2019 09:49 PM)confused2 Wrote: . . . Or is it fake news?
BBC Wrote:""These new systems have their origin in Soviet times - they've been taken off the shelves and given new investment."

Yah, nothing completely novel going on, just a revival. The Soviets had the RD-0410 among other projects, with the US also experimenting with nuclear thermal rockets back in the Cold War days.

(Nov, 2018) Russia may actually build a nuclear rocket: . . . the Soviets were developing their own nuclear thermal rocket, the RD-0410. The RD was significantly smaller than any of Project Rover’s rockets, including the diminutive Pewee. Testing on the RD-0410 also didn’t begin until after Project Rover had ended; the first live-fire test of the rocket occurred in 1978. But just like in the U.S., the Soviet project ran out of funding before it could be completed. In the early 1980s, just as the engine was nearing the first tests in space, the Soviet Union was beginning to collapse. The embattled government didn’t have the time or the money to entertain speculative rocket projects, and the RD-0410 was canceled by 1990.

The TEM Russian nuclear engine being developed today is a direct successor to the RD-0410. The project relies on modern materials and construction methods and borrows from the work done by both Soviet and American scientists. Despite what Koshlakov has said, nuclear rocket engines have a history about as long as any other kind of rocket. Perhaps with this new project, one of them will actually fly.


Quote:The Russian state nuclear agency, Rosatom, said the experts had been testing a nuclear-powered engine. But it gave no further technical details

Since Putin announced it himself a year and a half ago, and even American intelligence supposedly suspects this incident might have been connected to the Burevestnik program, I guess we can't dismiss the latter as completely sensationalist element introduced by the press. (I see Yazata already posted that Burevestnik link.)

Arguably Putin/Russia might have a speed edge in these technological pursuits since the US and its allies have higher standards for community safety (or the incredible outrage/protests from the public and media if great care wasn't taken). In comparison, Russian citizenry does what it always has for centuries. Acquiescently bending over as a resource servicing the needs of pseudo-dictators, communist leaders, tsars, and mongol rulers. "We thank the local population for placing yourselves at risk, suffering, and dying for the state's experiments -- you are heroes first, not just expendable bodies."

Small, mobile nuclear reactors created for a variety of general purposes is a similarly acknowledged endeavor that both the Russia and the US are pursuing. Example: The U.S. Military Wants Tiny Road Mobile Nuclear Reactors That Can Fit In A C-17. The excerpt from melodramatic headline below actually more concerns that broad territory:


Evidence Grows That Russia's Nuclear-Powered Doomsday Missile Was What Blew Up Last Week: Late on Aug. 11, 2019, Valentin Kostiukov, the director of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center-All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Experimental Physics, also known by the acronym RFNC-VNIIEF, along with the institute's scientific director Vyacheslav Solovyev and deputy scientific director Aleksandr Chernyshev, held a televised press briefing regarding the accident. RFNC-VNIIEF falls under Russia's top nuclear Corporation, Rosatom, which first admitted its involvement in the incident at the Nyonoksa missile test site in the country's Arkhangelsk region and that the explosion had occured during work on a system that included a nuclear "isotope power source," on Aug. 9, 2019.

[...] Neither Kostyukov, nor the other two representatives from the RFNC-VNIIEF, offered any details about what specifically the scientists had been working on. "One of the lines [of research and development] is the creation of sources of thermal or electric energy using radioactive materials, including fissile materials and radioisotope materials," Solovyev said, also noting work on small nuclear reactors.

Solovyev continued on to point out that there are potential military and civilian applications of such developments both on earth and in space, specifically highlighting the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Kilopower program as an example of a non-military endeavor occurring elsewhere in the world. The U.S. military is also investigating a number of small nuclear reactor designs as possible battlefield power sources, projects The War Zone has explored previously in-depth.

VNIIEF could certainly be working on small nuclear reactors for various applications. Given the Kilopower reference, there is the possibility that the "isotope power source" in question may have been a radioisotope thermoelectric generator or a small nuclear reactor for use on satellites or other spacecraft. The liquid fuel rocket motor, which reportedly was the component of the overall system that actually exploded, might point to some sort of launch vehicle that could have supported a test to see how a new generator or reactor design might respond to the stresses of getting blasted into orbit.



Military purposes have received less attention in recent years than the peaceful space stuff:

The Nuclear Thermal Rocket (technical student paper)
http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2011/ph241/hamerly1/

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion: Game Changing Technology for Deep Space Exploration
https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacet...xploration

NASA Reignites Program for Nuclear Thermal Rockets
https://phys.org/news/2017-08-nasa-reign...ckets.html
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#4
From the comprehensive replies (thanks all) and the small but significant radiation spike I'm going with 'not fake' - this was (my opinion) a real nuclear powered rocket/jet. I confess I grew up with "electricity so cheap it wouldn't even be metered" and didn't do any research (my mistake). Confused2 0/10, Scivillage 10/10. Sets a high standard - I'll try to live up to it.
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