Power for Spacecraft: Solar vs. Nuclear

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When exploring the solar system, which is a better source: solar, or nuclear? One of the first concepts of using the sun as a power source in space, was from the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov (Barber, 2012). It is understood that the research done by Peter Glasser in 1968, provides the science for Assimov's short story from 1941 (Barber, 2012). It was proposed by Glasser, “That solar energy could be collected by earth-orbiting satellites and then beamed to power stations on Earth's surface,” (Committee for the Assessment of NASA's Space Solar Power Investment Strategy, 2001). Although Glasser and Assimov viewed solar power as powering the planet, it was really Dr. Hans Ziegler who spearheaded the use of solar power for spacecraft, via Project Vanguard in the 1950s (Perlin, 2013). The first concepts of using nuclear power for spacecraft, was delved upon in the early 1900s, by R. Goddard and Esnault-Pelterie (Bruno, 2008). Probably the most interesting research on space-related nuclear power was around 1955, and continued with Project Orion (Bonometti, Morton, & Schmidt, 2000). Project Orion sought to use nuclear explosions to propel a spacecraft, it was called Nuclear Pulse Propulsion (Bonometti, Morton, & Schmidt, 2000). The first use of a nuclear power source for a spacecraft, was for a satellite called Transit 4A in 1961 (David, 2011). There are advantages and disadvantages to using solar, and nuclear power for spacecraft systems.
First, the advantages of using solar powered spacecraft is that there is an unlimited power supply, no worries about a contamination from an accident, and the system has a proven track record. As long as the spacecraft is facing the sun “when the angle of incidence of illuminating lig...

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