Russia has created an energy unit for a space nuclear power plant, Interfax reported on January 22 citing a report by Salyut Design Bureau of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center.
The report said that Salyut Design Bureau had created an energy unit and tested a turbomachine energy generator. It added that a space complex including a transport and power module based on the electric propulsion system had been designed.
First reports about Russian plans to create a nuclear energy unit, which would allow space flights, even towards other planets appeared in November 2009. Later, it was revealed that a nuclear propulsion system for a pace transport and power module was developed by Keldysh Research Center in 2015.
According to initial plans, a first flight test of the nuclear transport and power module was planned for 2018. In 2016, these plans were reshaped and it was revealed that a first flight prototype of the module could be ready by 2022-2023.
Media reports say that the estimated budget of the development is 17,000,000,000 rubles. [about 261,538,000 USD] According to experts, the development of nuclear transport and power modules is a key factor needed to conduct tasks in inner and far space.
The nuclear energetics was already used in space by the USSR: in the period from 1970 to 1988 there were 32 launches of space modules with thermoelectric nuclear power units. In the period from 1960 to 1980, the USSR developed and tested a nuclear rocket propulsion system.
The nuclear systems developed by the USSR could become an important factor allowing the mankind to a breakthrough in actions in inner space. However, these projects and researches in this direction were halted because of several factors: a complicated economic situation in 1980s, the shutdown of multiple space projects. Some sources say that the US also played a role in this by using its influence on Mikhail Gorbachev and his inner circle.
Currently, nuclear propulsion systems are much more needed than 50 years ago. It’s interesting to note that during this 50-year long period, including almost 30 years since the fall of the USSR, there has been no progress in this field by the Western engineering. The reason is likely the shift from the expansion from the “external” expansion [for example, into space] to an “internal” expansion [for example, cyberspace].
Since the middle of 2000s, Russia has renewed its interest in the field of such space projects. However, by this 2010s, it has become apparent that the Russian industry has lost a major part of the Soviet potential and been not able to establish own ground for such projects. In this situation, expectations that Moscow will get first flight prototype of the aforementioned module by 2022-2023 could appear to be too optimistic.