According to our news media, Russia has been radioactive since at least the Trump inauguration, if not Chernobyl. Today, a scintillating story has broken, telling of released radiation following explosion of an experimental engine using “radioisotopes and liquid propellant.” The engine is speculated to be related to Russia’s development of a hypersonic missile.
The “radioisotopes” got my attention. Radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG‘s) have been around for quite some time and used to power niche items like isolated lighthouses and spacecraft. They use heat resulting from the known and predictable decay of various radioactive heavy elements to produce electricity.
However, the quantity of electricity generated by RTG’s, while long-lasting, is quite limited – in the range of 10 – 100 watts; think lighting your grandfather’s 8mm movie camera floodlights. Hardly enough to power a hypersonic missile, no matter what the liquid fuel. Previously, John Walker has described proposed and early development of nuclear propulsion for aircraft and rocket engines, but these were fission reactors. So, several questions arise: 1. was reference to radioisotopes simply covering up for an actual nuclear accident of some kind? 2. Is there some plausible use for an RTG in a hypersonic missile along with a “liquid propellant”? Presumably, this missile is at least in part, air-breathing; what would electricity add to that? 3. Is it imaginable this was actually a miniaturized fission reactor squeezed into a hypersonic missile? The ones I have seen are pretty small. Seems unlikely.
Anybody else find this fascinating? Any thoughts or answers to these questions?