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White House Issues Space Policy Directive on Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion

By Rachel Jewett | December 17, 2020
      White House

      The White House. Photo: US government

      The White House released Space Policy Directive-6 (SPD-6) on Wednesday regarding a U.S. national strategy for space nuclear power and propulsion (SNPP), technology that the White House said will be needed to fuel future space exploration. Space nuclear systems power missions where alternative power sources are inadequate, such as environments that are too dark for solar power or too far away to carry sufficient chemical fuels. 

      SPD-6 establishes that the U.S. government will pursue a roadmap for federally-supported space nuclear power and propulsion activities. It set the following goals for development: “develop capabilities that enable production of fuel suitable to a range of planetary surface and inspace SNPP applications; demonstrate a fission power system on the Moon; establish technical foundations and capabilities that will enable options for in-space nuclear propulsion; and develop advanced radioisotope power systems to enable survivable surface systems and extend robotic exploration of the solar system.”

      Dr. Scott Pace, executive secretary of the National Space Council commented: “Space nuclear power and propulsion is a fundamentally enabling technology for American deep space missions to Mars and beyond. The United States intends to remain the leader among spacefaring nations, applying nuclear power technology safely, securely, and sustainably in space.”

      NASA issued a statement in support of the directive and said the agency’s near-term priority is to mature and demonstrate a fission surface power system on the Moon. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine commented that SPD-6 “bolsters the agency’s efforts to develop affordable, safe, and reliable nuclear systems, including technology capable of continuously powering operations on other worlds and propelling future human missions to Mars.”