In the last century, Russia and the United States engaged competitively in both a space race and a nuclear technology race. In this century, it appears the two are considering collaborating in turning the fruits of those Cold War showdowns into workable technology that could expand spaceflight operations beyond Earth orbit. On April 15, Russia and NASA (and a handful of other “nuclear club” countries) will convene to talk about building a next-gen, nuclear powered spaceship.
The head of Roscosmos--NASA’s Russian counterpart--told Russia’s state-owned newswire that states with a high degree of nuclear reactor technology will take part in the talks. So while Roscosmos and NASA are the principal space agencies involved, France, Germany, China, and Japan were also mentioned as potential partners in the report.
Why now? Roscosmos, it turns out, plans to complete a new design for a nuclear spacecraft engine by next year. But while it has big plans for its nuclear technology, it needs some $600 million to build the thing. A good deal of that will likely come from Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear agency. But clearly Roscosmos also seeks international involvement, be it financial or technical.