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Space nuclear power & propulsion: a technology gap assessment

The International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) completed a technology gap assessment on space nuclear power & propulsion systems that could be used in future human exploration missions at the Moon and Mars.  The assessment was conducted by the ISECG’s Technology Working Group and performed by a team of subject matter experts representing ten ISECG space agencies and two nuclear energy organizations.  The final report is the culmination of about 18 months of analysis and deliberations.  The team reviewed mission architectures, determined technology needs, and assessed the current status of space nuclear technologies to identify gaps.

The team considered a variety of space nuclear technologies including radioisotope power systems, low-power fission systems, high-power fission systems, and nuclear propulsion systems.  The final report included ten key findings and provided several recommendations to be pursued further.  One key finding was that the development of space nuclear systems presents both technical and geopolitical challenges which can be facilitated through international coordination and collaboration.  Another key finding was that the implementation of nuclear systems in the Global Exploration Roadmap would benefit from a strategy that starts with smaller, simpler systems and evolves to larger, more complex ones.  The report recommends the formation of a Nuclear Focus Group to monitor progress on nuclear technology programs across participating agencies, explore technology transfer opportunities with the terrestrial nuclear sector, and evaluate the potential for international standards on space nuclear systems.

This technology assessment on space nuclear technologies is one of six technology gap assessments completed by ISECG.  Examples of other completed technology assessments include the topics of In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU), Autonomy, and Dust Mitigation, while the current on-going gap assessment is focused on the domain of Life Support Systems.

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