This Week in Space 101: Nukes in Space

Russia is building a secret nuclear-powered space weapon, but what does that mean for the rest of us? In this episode, Tariq Malik is joined by Space.com’s Brett Tingley to discuss the recent reports and delve into the history of nuclear weapons and reactors in space, the existing international treaties governing weapons of mass destruction in orbit, and the growing militarization of space by Russia, China, and the United States. Malik and Tingley also cover the week’s top headlines, including SpaceX’s upcoming Starship orbital launch attempt and NASA’s continuing struggles to revive the Voyager 1 spacecraft.

Headlines:

  • SpaceX sets March 14th as tentative date for Starship’s third test flight, pending final launch license approval from the FAA
  • NASA’s Voyager 1 probe, launched in 1977 and now in interstellar space, continues to experience significant computer glitches that mission controllers are struggling to diagnose
  • The next Great North American Solar Eclipse is just one month away, with the path of totality crossing from Mexico through the central and northeastern US on April 8th

Main Topic: Potential Russian Nuclear Space Weapons

  • Recent reports from US officials suggest Russia may be developing a new nuclear-powered anti-satellite weapon or electronic warfare platform
  • The weapon likely wouldn’t pose an immediate threat, but highlights the growing militarization of space and potential for a new arms race
  • Nuclear power has long been used in space, from radioisotope thermoelectric generators on probes like Voyager to plans for nuclear propulsion
  • The 1967 Outer Space Treaty bans placing WMDs in orbit, but has some gray areas and lacks robust enforcement mechanisms
  • The US, Russia, and China have all demonstrated anti-satellite capabilities in recent years, from missiles to lasers to mini-satellites with robotic arms
  • There are also growing concerns over military interest in cislunar space and the Moon as another “high ground” to be contested
  • While there are more pressing threats than space-based nuclear weapons, the situation reflects deteriorating international relations and the need for updated treaties

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