Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Planned to Explore Jupiter

The proposed aircraft is designed to work best in the Jovian atmosphere.
Fabienne Lang
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Jupiter's thick atmosphere and surface-free set-up make it an ideal exploration site, as harm is kept to a minimum. These reasons make the planet an exceptionally interesting spot to explore. 

Now, a team of researchers from Sofia University in Bulgaria has put together its expertise to explain how a nuclear-powered flyer would be best suited for exploring the planet

The study was published in the preprint server, arXiv, which has yet to be peer-reviewed.


The proposed aircraft, a subatmospheric craft made to work best in the Jovian atmosphere, could start a new breed of space exploring aircraft, per the scientists. 

The reason why Jupiter is so attractive as an exploration site is because "it features thick atmosphere suitable for aerodynamic flight, there is no solid surface that can be contaminated after the end of the mission, and the atmospheric data for designing a Flyer is readily available," as wrote the scientists in their study.

The planet's atmosphere is thick enough to basically fly regular Earth airplanes that have been tweaked somewhat. 

The main issues are that as Jupiter is so far from the Sun, there's no way of using solar energy, and combustion can't be used either as there's not enough oxygen floating around the planet.

Thus the scientists' nuclear-powered battery propulsion, which would enable its fuel to burn for months, if not years. 

"The nuclear fuel has extremely high energy density that allows for months, if not years, of sustainable flight before the fuel is depleted. Unlike chemical combustion, the nuclear reaction does not rely on oxygen to produce heat. This enables flight in anaerobic atmospheres and without the need of carrying oxidizer," explained the scientists. 

On top of that, the engine could be designed as a ramjet, as per the study, which offers a number of attributes, including few moving parts, and its lightweight.

So it seems that one of the best ways to explore Jupiter, and similar planets, is to develop a plane that's almost the same as a regular one, and tack on a nuclear-powered ramjet. 

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