Keywords: nuclear propulsion, UAVs, UAV applications, nuclear power, unmanned aerial vehicles, nuclear energy, nuclear engines, radiation safety, nuclear safety, UAV crashes, nuclear proliferation
Nuclear–powered unmanned aerial vehicles for science, industry and telecommunications
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) suffer from limitations on flight persistence and on electrical power for avionics and payload systems. Both limitations may be effectively lifted by the use of an on–board nuclear engine, which will open up the horizon for further UAV applications in science and industry. Nuclear–powered UAVs were studied in the USA by Sandia and Northrop Grumman. While the results of this study are classified, the published summary states that 'the technical goals for the project were accomplished' and that 'it was disappointing to all that the political realities would not allow use of the results'. Here it is estimated that a 1–MW nuclear engine for large UAV may weigh below 1000 kg including fuel. The maintenance of radiation safety and possible crash and proliferation issues are briefly addressed, as well as the anticipated applications.