Monday, March 26, 2018

The Case for Remotely Sited Underwater Nuclear Reactors

FlexBlue subsea nuclear reactor being deployed by vessel (Credit: DCNS)
by Marcel F. Williams

Within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of remote US island territorial waters, centrally  mass produced subsea commercial nuclear reactors could be safely deployed and utilized to provide all of America's energy and industrial chemical needs.   In fact,  remote US territorial waters alone, could provide the American continent  and the rest of  the world with all of the  electricity,  transportation fuel, industrial chemicals, and fertilizers needed to sustain human civilization.

United States Exclusive Economic Zones (Credit: NOAA)

Anchored and moored above the seabed, approximately 100 meters below the water's surface, subsea nuclear power plants would be safe from damage from extreme temperatures,  hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, plane crashes and ship collisions.  And even if a subsea reactor is seriously damaged, no electricity is need for the reactor to passively shut down since it allows the natural cooling ability of the ocean to keep its fuel from melting.

Notional FlexBlue reactor farm at the bottom of a sea bed (Credit: DCNS) 
Under this scenario,  subsea nuclear reactors, similar to the 250 MWe FlexBlue reactors proposed by France, could be clustered in groups of eight (2000 MWe) and under the control of a floating Control Center barge. Up to eight such nuclear complexes (nuplexes) would be placed along a circle four kilometers in diameter, producing as much as 16 GW of electric power.  Power plant employees living alone would be comfortably housed at one of two cruise ships positioned at the center of the surrounding circle of nuplexes (nearly two kilometers away) when they're not working. 

Floating Control Center connected to subsea nuclear reactors floating above the seabed.

Five to ten kilometers distant from the nuplexes, a variety of floating barges designed to produce carbon neutral synthetic fuels, industrial chemicals, and fertilizers would be deployed to utilize the nuclear electricity provided through submarine cables. Synplex and nuplex workers and their families could be housed in cruise ships positioned at least ten to twenty kilometers away from the nuclear synplex zones.

Ocean Nuclear Zone and surrounding Synplex Zone
While the subsea reactor wouldn't be vulnerable during a hurricane, the Control Center barge floating on the surface above could disconnect from the under water reactors and easily towed to a safe region until the tropical storm has passed. That could also apply to the floating assets within the synplex zones, returning to reconnect with the nuclear grid once the hurricane has passed. Once a hurricane has formed, it can be tracked and scientists can usually predict its path 3 to 4 days in advance.

The security of the nuplex zone would be provided by the US Coast Guard, under this scenario, put payed for by the private nuplex company or companies. Security for the surrounding synplex zone would be provided by private security companies paid for by the synplex companies.

So any attempt at terrorism against a subsea reactor would require terrorist to pass through a privately protected synplex zone five kilometers wide and then pass through an inner Coast Guard protected area that's an additional five kilometers wide-- areas where ships not related to the synplexes or nuplexes would be forbidden to enter.  And if a subsea reactor somehow became extensively damaged, it would still be surrounded by the virtually infinite heat  sink of the ocean which would make the meltdown of its nuclear fuel-- impossible. 
Island EEZ with designated areas for seasteading and nuclear synplex zones

If such nuclear synplexes were confined to a quarter of the EEZ  area at least 100 kilometers  away from a natural island or atoll, less than half of the nuclear synplex zone could produce more than 1.7 Terrawatts of electricity.  So the synplex zones within the EEZ areas of just three different remote US island territories could, in theory,  provide all of America's energy and industrial chemical needs. But such nuclear synplex zones could be deployed in the remote  EZZ areas of: Wake Island, the Midway Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Palmyra Atoll, the Johnston Atoll, Jarvis Island, and the Howland and Baker Islands. The vast and remote Aleutian Island chain would also be an excellent location for nuclear synplex zones.

The opposite quarter of the island's  EEZ would be for a aquaculture and seasteading (inhabited artificial islands). While no one has ever been killed or even harmed from radiation from commercial nuclear power plants within the US, more than 116 million people on the continental US live within 80 kilometers of a commercial nuclear power plant.  So the closest seasteaders under this scenario would be more than 200 kilometers away from ocean synplexes and  nuplexes  that would already be substantially safer than terrestrial commercial nuclear power plants that are already incredibly safe.

The deployment of specialized barges into Synplex Zones powered by Ocean Nuclear power plants could be used to produce:  

1. Methanol

2. Gasoline

3. Diesel Fuel

4. Jet fuel

5. Kerosene

6. Dimethyl ether

7. Liquid hydrogen

8. Liquid oxygen

9. Potable water

10. Sodium Chloride (salt)

11. Ammonia

12. Urea

13. Formaldehyde

14.  Chlorine

15. Uranium

Synplex zones could also be used to locate floating factories that could export their manufactured goods to ports located around the world.

Methanol manufactured from Ocean Nuclear Synplexes could use  methanol powered tanker ships to export methanol to coastal cities and towns around the world for the production of electricity.  Greenhouse gas polluting natural gas power plants can be easily and cheaply converted to burn carbon neutral methanol. Floating methanol energy barges could be used to quickly deployed to provide electricity to coastal towns and cities around the world. Such energy barges and methanol tankers could also be transported into the Great Lakes area of the US to provide carbon neutral electricity to interior states such as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota plus the Canadian province of Ontario.   

And if the CO2 from the flu gasses from methanol power plants are recovered and exported back to Ocean Nuclear Synplexes for the production of even more methanol, methanol power plants would be carbon negative (extracted carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for each new plant that is either deployed or converted to use methanol).

Since sunlight only provides 8 hours a day of useful energy for solar power plants, methanol electric power plants using synthetic methanol could be used as backup power, replacing greenhouse gas polluting natural gas power plants.

In the near future, a US state like California could export its urban and rural biowaste to a remote nuclear synplex located in the EEZ area of Wake Island. Nuclear electricity could be used to convert the  biowaste  into syngas through plasma arc pyrolysis. The syngas would be enriched with hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water extracted from seawater in order to triple the production of carbon neutral methanol.  The methanol could then be exported to back to coastal cities and towns in  California to produce back up electricity for its future solar electric power plants. The recaptured CO2 from the flu gasses from the methanol power plants could be exported back the the Wake Island EEZ for the production of more methanol.  So methanol produced from nuclear electricity from the remote Wake Island EEZ could provide at least 70% of California's electric power needs while inland solar energy could provide the rest of California's electricity needs during the daylight hours when the skies are not significantly overcast. Carbon neutral methanol, gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel, and dimethyl ether produced from the Wake Island EEZ nuclear synplex zone could also provide California with all of its transportation fuel needs.

Links and References

Flexblue: A Subsea Reactor Project

Siting Ocean Nuclear Power Plants in Remote US Territorial Waters for the Carbon Neutral Production of Synfuels and Industrial Chemicals

Will Russia and China Dominate Ocean Nuclear Technology?

FlexBlue Underwater Commercial Nuclear Reactor

The Future of Ocean Nuclear Synfuel Production

Fueling Our Nuclear Future

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Commercial Case for an SLS-B

by Marcel F. Williams
SLS core vehicle and EUS without SRBs (Modified after NASA)
The Space Launch System (SLS) will only  be truly successful as a government and commercial heavy lift vehicle if its utilized in  a manner that takes full advantage-- of its inherent advantages. As a super heavy lift vehicle of the SLS should be capable of deploying  70 tonnes to 130 tonnes of payload to LEO (Low Earth Orbit). However, much simpler and cheaper SLS configurations could still  deploy at least 20 tonnes to 50 tonnes to LEO. In this article, I'll refer to a simpler and cheaper version of the SLS-- as the SLS-B.

The SLS-B would only consist of the SLS core vehicle plus the Exploratory Upper Stage (EUS).  Five expendable RS-25 engines would  be used for the SLS-B, one more than is utilized for the SLS heavy lift vehicle.   And such a basic SLS configuration should be  capable of deploying at least 20 tonnes of payload to LEO.

Twenty tonnes of payload capability would, of course, make the  SLS-B   fully capable of launching a variety of crew modules into orbit such as: Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, Space X's Dragon, and possible future crewed spacecraft such as Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser. Such crew modules on top of the SLS-B would also allow several tonnes of additional payload within an expansive payload fairing with a maximum payload diameter of 7.5 meters, much larger that the 4.6 meter internal fairing diameter you'd get aboard the Falcon Heavy or the Atlas V.

The SLS-B could, therefore,  add an additional crew launch vehicle to America's fleet of Earth to LEO spacecraft, competing with the Falcon 9, the Atlas V, and the future Vulcan and Glenn launch vehicles.

A cluster of small solid rocket boosters currently used to enhance the payload capability of the Atlas-V could also be used to increase the payload capability of the SLS-B up to 50 tonnes to LEO. This would give the SLS-B a payload capability close to that of the Falcon Heavy while offering a substantially  larger internal payload fairing diameter.

As a purely liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fueled vehicle, the SLS-B  would have the environmental advantage of being  carbon neutral-- if its fuel is exclusively derived from nuclear or renewable electrolytically produced hydrogen and oxygen. The the SLS-B would, therefore,  be one of the most environmental benign launch vehicles in operation by not contributing to global warming, ocean acidification,  and global sea rise.

The increase in the demand for the SLS EUS, core stage, and RS-25 engines for sub-heavy lift flights should help to significantly reduce the vehicle cost for the SLS super heavy lift vehicle.

Of course, there is still the question as to whether  there will be enough launch demand for so many launch vehicles.

As far as crew launches are concerned, current demand by government agencies is relatively meager, with only four crew launches in 2017.  However, the potential passenger demand for space tourism could be substantial once private spacecraft of crew launch capability. There are currently more than 50,000 people in the world wealthy enough to afford a $20 million to $50 million ticket to orbit. If just 1% (500 individuals) of such individuals traveled into orbit every year, the demand would require at least 100 to 125 crew launches annually.

Commercial launch demand could be further enhanced by:

1. Starting a space lotto system: allowing adults to purchase dollar tickets for a trip to a private space station in orbit.

2. Deploying propellant producing water depots at LEO and EML1 (Such depots would require hundreds of tonnes of water to be launched from the Earth's surface annually)

3. Creating an international space agency that requires only $50 million in annual  dues from its member nations (If such an international agency only had twenty members and spent only half of its revenue on purchasing crew flights into space then ten to twenty people could be annually launched to LEO)

4. Allowing the US military to deploy astronauts from the armed services into space aboard facilities owned and operated by the DOD (Department of Defense): A mere $1 billion a year could allow ten to twenty military personal to fly into orbit annually.

5. Starting a guest astronaut program for deep space missions that charges foreign astronauts $150 million for participating in a deep space mission. So two foreign astronauts participating in a deep space mission could cut NASA's cost per mission by $300 million, allowing more missions to be funded. 

Private operation and commercial utilization  of the SLS and SLS-B (Boeing, Orbital ATK, and Aerojet Rocketdyne?) would allow both vehicles to compete with launch vehicles deployed by Space X, the ULA, and other countries around the world.

Links and References

 The Case for an International Space Agency

Boeing's New HLV Concept could be the DC-3 of Manned Rocket Boosters

Space Commercialization and the Lunar Lotto

The Case for a US Miltary Presence at LEO and Beyond

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Efficient Utilization of the Space Launch System in the Age of Propellant Depots

by Marcel F. Williams 

SLS Block I and Block IB (Credit: NASA)

With the successful test launch of Space X's  Falcon Heavy, some have questioned why NASA continues to support the development of the Boeing/Orbital ATK Space Launch System (SLS). The Falcon Heavy is now the most powerful rocket in operation with the capability of deploying up to 63 tonnes of payload to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). But next year,  NASA will test launch an even more  powerful heavy lift vehicle.  In its earliest incarnation, the SLS will be capable of deploying at least 70 tonnes of payload to LEO. By the time its Exploratory Upper Stage (EUS) is developed in the early 2020s, the SLS will be capable of deploying more than 105 tonnes of payload to LEO. Future advances or alternatives to the SLS solid rocket boosters also promise to enable the SLS to  deploy more than 130 tonnes of payload to orbit.

Maximum payload deployment to LEO:

SLS Block 2: 130 tonnes

SLS Block 1B: 105 tonnes

SLS Block 1: 70 tonnes

Falcon Heavy: 63 tonnes

Delta-IV Heavy: 28.8 tonnes

Falcon 9: 22.8 tonnes

Atlas-V: 20.5 tonnes

But  the Space Launch System will have an additional advantage over other launch vehicles in its ability to also accommodate  payloads with substantially larger dimensions. While the Falcon Heavy and most other launch vehicles will continue to be  limited to housing payloads within a maximum diameter of 4.6 meters, the SLS will be capable of deploying payloads within its  fairing up to 9.1 meters in diameter.

NASA's Hubble space telescope has a 2.4 in diameter mirror. The SLS would be the only vehicle capable of  accommodating space  telescopes with a single mirror  8 meters in diameter mirror or  segmented mirrors up to 16.8 meters in diameter.  The SLS would also be only launch vehicle with a fairing size capable of deploying Bigelow's 65 to 100 tonne BA-2100 Olympus space station which requires a fairing diameter of at least 8 meters.

Beyond the payload fairing dimensions, the SLS would also be the only rocket capable of deploying  Lockheed-Martin's reusable Mars landing vehicle (MADV) to orbit.
Notional  MADV on to of SLS (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Maximum (internal) payload fairing diameter:

Space Launch System (SLS): 9.1 meters

Falcon Heavy: 4.6 meters

Falcon 9: 4.6 meters

Atlas-V: 4.6 meters

Delta-IV: 4.6 meters

The cost of an SLS launch will largely depend on how frequently the heavy lift vehicle is launched. NASA launched as many as eight space shuttle (a heavy lift vehicle) missions in one year. But since the expendable RS-25 engines for the core vehicle won't be ready until the early 2020s, the SLS can't be routinely launched into space until that time. However, sixteen RS-25 engines derived from the old Space Shuttle program are available for four SLS launches until the new expendable engines are ready.

But the success of the SLS will depend on how efficiently and frequently it is utilized. Once the new RS-25 engines are in production, it will be essential for NASA to launch the SLS at least twice per year during the 2020's and a lot more frequently during the 2030s. 

Propellant producing water depots are still the key to opening up the rest of the solar system for eventual commercialization and colonization of the rest of the solar system. Since most propellant depots concepts utilize existing propellant tanks or existing propellant tank technology, the SLS would have a distinct advantage over other launch technologies because of the size and volume of its propellant tanks.

An EUS modified with the ULA's Integrated Vehicle Fuel ( IVF) technology (WPD-OTV-128) could be deployed by the SLS to LEO or EML1 with a LOX/LH2 storage capacity of 128 tonnes with a 450 Kwe solar power plant. At EML1, such a propellant producing water depot would be capable of producing approximately 45 tonnes of LOX/LH2 propellant per month plus an additional 12 tonnes of LOX per month. The notional WPD-OTV-128 would also be capable of redeploying itself in orbit around Mars or Venus to enable crew returns to cis-lunar space from those worlds. Propellant producing water depots (WPD-OTV-128) at LEO and EML1 could be supplied with water from private commercial launch vehicles such as the Falcon Heavy.

Notional solar powered propellant producing water depot (WPD-OTV-128) at EML1.

An SLS Block IB might be capable of deploying up to 35 tonnes of payload to EML1. An IVF modified EUS utilized as a reusable OTV (Orbital Transfer Vehicle) would be capable of transporting at least 70 tonnes of payload from LEO to EML1. Two such OTVs (positioned on opposite sides of the cargo) would be capable of transporting at least  140 tonnes of payload from LEO to EML1. So by utilizing propellant depots, anything the SLS can launch to LEO could also be transported practically anywhere within cis-lunar space.

A larger orbital transfer vehicles (OTV-400) and propellant depots (WPD-OTV-400) could also be derived from SLS propellant tank technology and  used for crewed missions to the orbits of Mars and Venus.
Notional OTV-400 orbital transfer vehicle for crewed interplanetary missions

 Reusable LOX/LH2 spacecraft deployed by the SLS or by private commercial launch vehicles could be utilized for cargo and crew missions between EML1 and the lunar surface and between EML1 and LEO. Lockheed-Martin's reusable MADV could be used to land astronauts on the Moon and Mars or  transport them between LEO and EML1.   Reusable vehicle concepts such as the XEUS spacecraft or a notional Altair-like reusable vehicle (ETLV-4) utilizing Boeing's 2.4 meter in diameter cryotanks could be used to transport astronauts to and from the lunar surface to EML1 or between LEO and EML1.

XEUS lunar lander (Credit: ULA)

NASA plans a crew launch of the SLS in the early 2020s with a plan to deploy the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) to the vicinity of the Moon. But reusable spacecraft using propellant depots would make Orion's European manufactured Service Module (SM) obsolete. The Service Module could be replaced by a reusable LOX/LH2 ACES 68 which could also be utilized with  the ULA's future Vulcan spacecraft to deploy the Orion to LEO.

Notional ETLV-4 lunar lander

Notional CLV-7 lunar cargo lander

Another SLS advantage over other launch vehicles would be the inherent  ability to use SLS propellant tanks or SLS propellant tank technology to deploy large habitats into orbit and to the surfaces of extraterrestrial worlds.

SLS propellant tank derived 8.4 meter in diameter microgravity habitats would have enough internal space to easily accommodate 20 centimeters or more of water shielding to protect astronauts from the deleterious effects of heavy nuclei and major solar events while still providing enough room to accommodate hypergravity centrifuges up to 6 meters in diameter that could be used to mitigate some of the deleterious effects of microgravity on human physiology. At least two SLS propellant tank derived microgravity habitats with 662 m3 of internal volume (more than twice the internal volume of Bigelow's BA-330) could be deployed to LEO-- with a single SLS launch. 

Notional SLS propellant tank derived microgravity habitat (Credit: NASA)

8.4 meter in diameter  SLS propellant tank habitats designed for the lunar and Martian surfaces could be easily placed with the SLS  payload fairing for deployment to the surfaces of the Moon or Mars.
 Such SLS propellant tank derived habitats could provide spacious multi-level habitats for the surfaces of the Moon and Mars that can be easily protected from the dangers of excessive cosmic radiation, major solar events, micrometeorites, and extreme thermal fluctuations by dumping regolith into an automatically deployed regolith wall that could allow up to two meters of regolith shielding, reducing radiation exposure well below that of radiation workers on Earth. 
X-Ray of notional Lunar Regolith Habitat
Notional twin Lunar Regolith Habitats on top of a sintered regolith

Three 8.4 meter in diameter SLS  propellant tank derived habitats joined together by cables and a retractable boom. When rotating at 2rpm, the cylindrical rings of the telescoping booms would expand the AGH approximately  224 meters in diameter, producing a simulated gravity up to 0.5 g within the counter balancing habitat modules. For crewed interplanetary missions, the booms could be easily retracted so that the AGH can be re-docked with an Orbital Transfer Vehicle for trajectory burns during the beginning or end of any interplanetary mission. The 0.5g simulated gravity aboard an AGH would be higher than on the surface of the Moon (0.17g) or Mars (0.38g). Appropriate radiation shielding against the heavy ion component of cosmic rays could be internally provided by water. Permanent internal shielding against excessive levels of cosmic radiation exposure could be provided by iron extracted from lunar regolith. 
X-Ray of notional SLS propellant tank derived artificial gravity habitat
Notional rotating artificial gravity habitat at EML1

While the Falcon Heavy wouldn't even come close to the launch capabilities of the SLS, Space X is currently working on a Super Heavy Lift vehicle that could.  The two stage methane fueled  BFR would be 9 meters in diameter (0.6 meters wider than the SLS) and be capable of deploying up to 150 tonnes to orbit (20 tonnes more than the SLS Block 2. Clearly, Elon Musk understands the value of large super heavy lift space rockets.

Links and References 

Lockheed Martin's Reusable Extraterrestrial Landing Vehicle Concept for the Moon and Mars

(Part II) Practical Timelines and Funding for Establishing Permanent Outpost on the Moon and Mars using Propellant Producing Water Depots and SLS and Commercial Launch Capability

Reusable Heavy Cargo and Crew Landing Vehicles for the Moon and Mars

The ULA's Future ACES Upper Stage Technology

SLS Derived Artificial Gravity Habitats for Space Stations and Interplanetary Vehicles

Space X BFR (Rocket)

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