March 22, 2012

Sandia may be working to add nuclear power source for ultra-persistent drones

A Sandia Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) Ultra-Persistence Research project summary refers to “propulsion and power technologies that [go] well beyond existing hydrocarbon technologies,” does not actually use the word “nuclear.” But with unmistakable references to “safeguards,” “decommissioning and disposal,” and those unfavorable “political conditions,” there is little doubt about the topic under discussion.

The objective was “to increase UAV sortie duration from days to months while increasing available electrical power at least two-fold". They concluded regretfully that “current political conditions will not allow use of the results.”

So they likely have a nuclear radio-thermal system that allows for UAVs to fly non-stop for months. Will they not use it or will they say there will not use and then use it where they want to ?

The effort contrasted and compared eight heat sources technologies, three power conversion, two dual cycle propulsion system configurations, and a single electrical power generation scheme. Overall performance, specific power parameters, technical complexities, security, safety, and other operational features were successfully investigated. Large and medium sized UAV systems were envisioned and operational flight profiles were developed for each concept. Heat source creation and support challenges for domestic and expeditionary operations were considered. Fundamental cost driver analysis was also performed. System development plans were drafted in order to determine where the technological and programmatic critical paths lay.

As a result of this effort, UAVs were to be able to provide far more surveillance time and intelligence information per mission while reducing the high cost of support activities. This technology was intended to create unmatched global capabilities to observe and preempt terrorist and weapon of mass destruction (WMD) activities. Various DOE laboratory and contractor personnel and facilities could have been used to perform detailed engineering, fabrication, assembly and test operations including follow-on operational support. Unfortunately, none of the results will be used in the near-term or mid-term future. NGIS UMS and SNL felt that the technical goals for the project were accomplished. NGIS UMS was quite pleased with the results of analysis and design although it was disappointing to all that the political realities would not allow use of the results. Technology and system designs evaluated under this CRADA had previously never been applied to unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). Based upon logistic support cost predictions, because the UAVs would not have had to refuel as often, forward basing support costs could have been reduced due to

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