A report on Project Orion (nuclear propulsion)

Artist's conception of the NASA reference design for the Project Orion starship powered by nuclear propulsion
The Orion Spacecraft – key components
Image of the smallest Orion vehicle extensively studied, which could have had a payload of around 100 tonnes in an 8 crew round trip to Mars. On the left, the 10 meter diameter Saturn V "Boost-to-orbit" variant, requiring in-orbit assembly before the Orion vehicle would be capable of moving under its own propulsion system. On the far right, the fully assembled "lofting" configuration, in which the spacecraft would be lifted high into the atmosphere before pulse propulsion began. As depicted in the 1964 NASA document "Nuclear Pulse Space Vehicle Study Vol III - Conceptual Vehicle Designs and Operational Systems."
Modern pulsed fission propulsion concept
A design for the Orion propulsion module
A design for a pulse unit

Study conducted between the 1950s and 1960s by the United States Air Force, DARPA, and NASA for the purpose of identifying the efficacy of a starship directly propelled by a series of explosions of atomic bombs behind the craft via nuclear pulse propulsion.

- Project Orion (nuclear propulsion)
Artist's conception of the NASA reference design for the Project Orion starship powered by nuclear propulsion

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Concept graphic of a fusion-driven rocket powered spacecraft arriving at Mars

Nuclear pulse propulsion

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Hypothetical method of spacecraft propulsion that uses nuclear explosions for thrust.

Hypothetical method of spacecraft propulsion that uses nuclear explosions for thrust.

Concept graphic of a fusion-driven rocket powered spacecraft arriving at Mars
An artist's conception of the Project Orion "basic" spacecraft, powered by nuclear pulse propulsion.
A nuclear pulse propulsion unit. The explosive charge ablatively vaporizes the propellant, propelling it away from the charge, and simultaneously creating a plasma out of the propellant. The propellant then goes on to impact the pusher plate at the bottom of the Orion spacecraft, imparting a pulse of 'pushing' energy.
Conceptual diagram of a Medusa propulsion spacecraft, showing: (A) the payload capsule, (B) the winch mechanism, (C) the optional main tether cable, (D) riser tethers, and (E) the parachute mechanism.
Operating sequence of the Medusa propulsion system. This diagram shows the operating sequence of a Medusa propulsion spacecraft (1) Starting at moment of explosive-pulse unit firing, (2) As the explosive pulse reaches the parachute canopy, (3) Pushes the canopy, accelerating it away from the explosion as the spacecraft plays out the main tether with the winch, generating electricity as it extends, and accelerating the spacecraft, (4) And finally winches the spacecraft forward to the canopy and uses excess electricity for other purposes.

It originated as Project Orion with support from DARPA, after a suggestion by Stanislaw Ulam in 1947.

Dyson at the Long Now Seminar in San Francisco, California, in 2005

Freeman Dyson

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English-American theoretical physicist and mathematician known for his works in quantum field theory, astrophysics, random matrices, mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, and engineering.

English-American theoretical physicist and mathematician known for his works in quantum field theory, astrophysics, random matrices, mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, and engineering.

Dyson at the Long Now Seminar in San Francisco, California, in 2005
Artist's concept of Dyson rings, forming a stable Dyson swarm, or "Dyson sphere"
Freeman Dyson in 2007 at the Institute for Advanced Study
The rank of a partition, shown as its Young diagram
John von Neumann

From 1957 to 1961 Dyson worked on Project Orion, which proposed the possibility of space-flight using nuclear pulse propulsion.

Stanisław Ulam

Stanislaw Ulam

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Polish-American scientist in the fields of mathematics and nuclear physics.

Polish-American scientist in the fields of mathematics and nuclear physics.

Stanisław Ulam
Stanisław Ulam
The Scottish Café's building now houses the Universal Bank in Lviv, Ukraine.
Ulam's ID badge photo from Los Alamos
Stan Ulam holding the FERMIAC
Ivy Mike, the first full test of the Teller–Ulam design (a staged fusion bomb), with a yield of 10.4 megatons on 1 November 1952
The Sausage device of Mike nuclear test (yield 10.4 Mt) on Enewetak Atoll. The test was part of the Operation Ivy. The Sausage was the first true H-Bomb ever tested, meaning the first thermonuclear device built upon the Teller-Ulam principles of staged radiation implosion.
An artist's conception of the NASA reference design for the Project Orion spacecraft powered by nuclear propulsion
When the positive integers are arrayed along the Ulam spiral, prime numbers, represented by dots, tend to collect along diagonal lines.
An animation demonstrating the lucky number sieve. The numbers in red are lucky numbers

Ulam considered the problem of nuclear propulsion of rockets, which was pursued by Project Rover, and proposed, as an alternative to Rover's nuclear thermal rocket, to harness small nuclear explosions for propulsion, which became Project Orion.

General Atomics

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American energy and defense corporation headquartered in San Diego, California, specializing in research and technology development.

American energy and defense corporation headquartered in San Diego, California, specializing in research and technology development.

The TRIGA nuclear reactor was one of the first General Atomics projects
The Predator UAV is made by General Atomics affiliate General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

General Atomics's initial projects were the TRIGA nuclear research reactor, which was designed so that it was guaranteed to be safe by the laws of nature, and Project Orion.

Daedalus spacecraft concept

Project Daedalus

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Study conducted between 1973 and 1978 by the British Interplanetary Society to design a plausible uncrewed interstellar probe.

Study conducted between 1973 and 1978 by the British Interplanetary Society to design a plausible uncrewed interstellar probe.

Daedalus spacecraft concept

This velocity is well beyond the capabilities of chemical rockets or even the type of nuclear pulse propulsion studied during Project Orion.

Ted Taylor (physicist)

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American theoretical physicist, specifically concerning nuclear energy.

American theoretical physicist, specifically concerning nuclear energy.

The later part of Taylor's career was focused on nuclear energy instead of weaponry, and included his work on Project Orion, nuclear reactor developments, and anti-nuclear proliferation.

Dyson at the Festival della Scienza, Genova, Italy, 2012

George Dyson (science historian)

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American non-fiction author and historian of technology whose publications broadly cover the evolution of technology in relation to the physical environment and the direction of society.

American non-fiction author and historian of technology whose publications broadly cover the evolution of technology in relation to the physical environment and the direction of society.

Dyson at the Festival della Scienza, Genova, Italy, 2012

He is the author of Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957–1965 and Darwin Among the Machines: The Evolution of Global Intelligence, in which he expands upon the premise of Samuel Butler's 1863 article of the same name and suggests that the Internet is a living, sentient being.

Mini-Mag Orion

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Mini-Mag Orion (MMO), or Miniature Magnetic Orion, is a proposed type of spacecraft propulsion based on the Project Orion nuclear propulsion system.

Brian Dunne

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Brian Boru Dunne II (January 8, 1924 - November 30, 2017) was Project Orion's chief scientist.

Jerry Astl

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Jaromir Astl (23 September 1922 – 16 October 2017), better known as Jerry Astl, was a Czechoslovakian aeronautical engineer and explosive engineer who helped design the American Project Orion nuclear propulsion spacecraft in the 1950s and 1960s.