(ASRG). To advance fission power technology, he recommended starting small, using ideas that are known to work and evolving over time with an emphasis on safety and reliability. He said that NASA should acknowledge the high cost and complexity of fission space power systems, and he cautioned against chasing new fission power concepts that are unrealistic and unproven, with no technological foundation.

H. Sterling Bailey (formerly with General Electric) focused his remarks on fission power systems, which he supports as a game-changing technology that could dramatically expand NASA’s science and exploration mission capabilities. He noted the programmatic challenges of fission power and the legal requirement that NASA partner with DOE in developing nuclear systems. He also said that the history of fissions space power systems has been characterized by bold efforts that are cancelled before development of operational systems is completed. As a result, confidence in this technology is low and the pool of personnel experienced with this technology is small and shrinking. He advocated the development of a fission space power system that could produce 1 kW of electricity, and he strongly supported ongoing work by NASA’s Fission Surface Power System Technology Project. Bailey cautioned against adopting a megawatt-class system as a goal for a new fission space power program; it would be better to start small.

The group discussion period spent some time on what size fission system should be built. Most of the speakers supported development of the 40 kW system that NASA is currently funding. (The current effort, which is funded entirely by NASA, does not include the development of nuclear technology.) In the end, system performance requirements should be based on the requirements of whatever missions are expected to use the system. Several speakers noted that efforts to develop new nuclear power systems typically face both technological and political challenges. A member of the NRC panel noted that the latter is outside the scope of this study, which is focused on technology.


NRC (National Research Council). 2006. Priorities in Space Science Enabled by Nuclear Power and Propulsion. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

NRC. 2010. Radioisotope Power Systems: An Imperative for Maintaining U.S. Leadership in Space Exploration. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

NRC. 2011. Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

Patel, M.R. 2005. Spacecraft Power Systems. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Fla.

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