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Author Topic: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?  (Read 23152 times)

Online flateric

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Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« on: March 22, 2012, 05:05:06 pm »

while reading of Mr. Nozette unfortunate ending...


Quote
Secret Drone Technology Barred by “Political Conditions”
March 22nd, 2012 by Steven Aftergood


A certain technology that could extend the mission duration and capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) was favorably assessed last year by scientists at Sandia National Laboratories and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation.  But they concluded regretfully that “current political conditions will not allow use of the results.”


The assessment was carried out to explore the feasibility of next generation UAVs.  The objective was “to increase UAV sortie duration from days to months while increasing available electrical power at least two-fold,” according to a June 2011 Sandia project summary.


And that objective could have been achieved by means of the unidentified technology, which “would have provided system performance unparalleled by other existing technologies,” the project summary said.


“As a result of this effort, UAVs were to be able to provide far more surveillance time and intelligence information while reducing the high cost of support activities.  This technology was intended to create unmatched global capabilities to observe and preempt terrorist and weapon of mass destruction (WMD) activities.”


But it was all for nought.


“Unfortunately, none of the results will be used in the near-term or mid-term future,” the project summary stated.  “It was disappointing to all that the political realities would not allow use of the results.”


Not only that, but “none of the results can be shared openly with the public due to national security constraints.”


On close reading, it seems clear that the Sandia-Northrop project contemplated the use of nuclear technology for onboard power and propulsion.


The project summary, which refers to “propulsion and power technologies that [go] well beyond existing hydrocarbon technologies,” does not actually use the word “nuclear.”  But with unmistakable references to “safeguards,” “decommissioning and disposal,” and those unfavorable “political conditions,” there is little doubt about the topic under discussion.


Furthermore, the project’s lead investigator at Sandia, the aptly named Dr. Steven B. Dron, is a specialist in nuclear propulsion, among other things.  He co-chaired a session at the 2008 Symposium on Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion at the University of New Mexico.


Interestingly, opposition to flying nuclear power sources in this case was internalized without needing to be expressed, and the authors were self-deterred from pursuing their own proposals.  “The results will not be applied/implemented,” they stated flatly.


Meanwhile, integration of (conventional) unmanned aircraft systems into the National Airspace System will proceed, as mandated by Congress.  On March 6, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a request for public comments on the pending designation of six UAS test sites around the country.


Last month, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other public interest organizations petitioned the FAA “to conduct a rulemaking to address the threat to privacy and civil liberties that will result from the deployment of aerial drones within the United States.”


http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2012/03/sandia_drone.html
http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/sand-uav.pdf
"There are many disbelievers in
stealth, more than a few of them truly technically ignorant and proud of it." Sherm Mullin, Skunk Works

Offline sferrin

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2012, 05:25:17 pm »
It'd probably work for cruise missiles too.   ;)
"DARPA Hard"  It ain't what it use to be.

Offline Orionblamblam

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2012, 06:24:09 pm »
I wonder if maybe there was some success with hafnium isomers after all.
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And so the endless circle of life comes to an end, meaningless and grim. Why did they live, and why did they die? No reason. Two hundred million years of evolution snuffed out, for in the end Nature is horrific and teaches us nothing

Offline sferrin

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2012, 06:30:00 pm »
I wonder if maybe there was some success with hafnium isomers after all.

"Interestingly, opposition to flying nuclear power sources in this case was internalized without needing to be expressed, and the authors were self-deterred from pursuing their own proposals."
 
That sounded. . .ominous.  Almost as if the author was pleased that "they saw the error of their ways without anybody needing to point it out for them". 
"DARPA Hard"  It ain't what it use to be.

Offline Orionblamblam

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2012, 08:24:45 pm »
That sounded. . .ominous.  Almost as if the author was pleased that "they saw the error of their ways without anybody needing to point it out for them".

Couple ways to take it:
1) "Holy crap, what we've come up with would work, but it'd be an environmental nightmare."
2) "Holy crap, what we've come up with would work, but it would require flying full-up fission reactors, and that just ain't gonna happen. Let's waste no further effort on this."
3) "Holy crap, what we've come up with wouldn't work worth a damn, but we'd better cover our butts with the higher-ups. Let's lie!"
4) "Holy crap, what we've come up with wouldn't work worth a damn, but if we drop vague hints, we can cause our enemies to waste time and effort trying to figure it out. Let's lie!"
5) "I'm bored. We've done nothing, but if we drop hints of Great Advancements, we'll make the UFO freaks go bugnuts. Let's lie!"
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And so the endless circle of life comes to an end, meaningless and grim. Why did they live, and why did they die? No reason. Two hundred million years of evolution snuffed out, for in the end Nature is horrific and teaches us nothing

Offline quellish

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sublight

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #6 on: March 22, 2012, 09:25:09 pm »
So is the political problem the mess that the Plutonium238 would make when one crashed/shot down, or that we would have to buy the Plutonium from Russia since we don't make it any more?

Offline quellish

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #7 on: March 23, 2012, 12:59:45 am »
So is the political problem the mess that the Plutonium238 would make when one crashed/shot down, or that we would have to buy the Plutonium from Russia since we don't make it any more?

There is plenty of 238, and it's not like it's going away soon.

Offline Mat Parry

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #8 on: March 23, 2012, 01:44:16 am »
Surely there are applications other than UAV's, ones which are less prone to crashing and either....
 
  • releasing a radiological nightmare (apologies, gone a bit Annie Jacobson with my language there  ::) )
  • unintended technology transfers (need to bomb the crash site back to the stone age.... yadda yadda yadda)
Hafnium isomers was my first thought too.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2012, 01:49:48 am by Catalytic »

Offline Nik

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #9 on: March 23, 2012, 06:49:29 am »
IMHO, the main problem is cumulo-granite...

Offline Mat Parry

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #10 on: March 23, 2012, 07:43:26 am »
I was speculating that there must be applications for such a groundbreaking power source that doesn't involve flying (or even worse crashing).
 
Maybe the political considerations are the risk of crop dusting the earth with a radioactive exhaust. I'd prefer to believe however that Sandia & Northrop had thought about that at the project kick off meeting...

Offline LowObservable

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #11 on: March 23, 2012, 02:37:41 pm »
Quellish, do you think you could get acceptable power/weight out of that system?

What I had heard (before this) was that the UAV and nuclear power went together because (1) nobody wants to fly for a week, much less a month and (2) long-term shielding of the crew drove the weight. If you recall the original hafnium-isomer Global Hawk idea, too, the idea was to burn JP for take-off, climb, descent and landing.

People have been quite serious about this, but its political chances are zero.

sublight

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #12 on: March 23, 2012, 03:20:07 pm »
So is the political problem the mess that the Plutonium238 would make when one crashed/shot down, or that we would have to buy the Plutonium from Russia since we don't make it any more?

There is plenty of 238, and it's not like it's going away soon.
Available to whom? The last seven or eight times NASA needed it, they had to buy it from Russia.

Offline quellish

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #13 on: March 23, 2012, 04:58:56 pm »
Quellish, do you think you could get acceptable power/weight out of that system?

What I had heard (before this) was that the UAV and nuclear power went together because (1) nobody wants to fly for a week, much less a month and (2) long-term shielding of the crew drove the weight. If you recall the original hafnium-isomer Global Hawk idea, too, the idea was to burn JP for take-off, climb, descent and landing.

People have been quite serious about this, but its political chances are zero.

According to the report, they looked at:
"eight heat sources technologies, three power conversions, two dual cycle propulsion system configurations, and a single electrical power generation scheme". I would guess that there may be a separate cycle for takeoff and landing, that would make a lot of sense.

Supposedly an ASRG has/can have the power to weight to enable use for this type of application. It's been looked at for a Titan mission UAV:
http://www.lpi.usra.edu/opag/Oct2011/presentations/1_AVIATR_Barnes.pdf
From other open source information on ASRGs, it seems that some very good power to weight is possible.
And hey, if you leave out the shielding....

RTGs in general are used more than you would think for terrestrial applications. Sometimes they get disguised as rocks ;)

Offline quellish

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Re: Sandia Lab's Nuclear-Powered UAV Project Leaked?
« Reply #14 on: March 23, 2012, 07:04:29 pm »
So is the political problem the mess that the Plutonium238 would make when one crashed/shot down, or that we would have to buy the Plutonium from Russia since we don't make it any more?

There is plenty of 238, and it's not like it's going away soon.
Available to whom? The last seven or eight times NASA needed it, they had to buy it from Russia.

Well, for non national security use:

http://nuclear.inl.gov/spacenuclear/docs/final72005faqs.pdf
http://www.nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/nwnmpu238082905.pdf

Otherwise, I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you.
You can however draw your own conclusions from documents such as this:
http://www.ccnr.org/plute_inventory_99.html
http://nnsa.energy.gov/ourmission/managingthestockpile/plutoniumpits
http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2007_10/PlutoniumStockpile
http://fissilematerials.org/library/gfmr11.pdf
« Last Edit: March 23, 2012, 09:31:03 pm by quellish »