Pulsed Nuclear Space Propulsion and International Law: Some Preliminary Observations
24 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2022 Last revised: 21 Jun 2022
Date Written: March 14, 2022
Pulsed Nuclear Space Propulsion, researched in the 1950s and 1960s by such eminent physicists as Freeman Dyson, Ted Taylor, Theodore von Karman, and Hans Bethe, involves propelling large spacecraft using compact nuclear explosions from specialized atomic devices. This technology is often known by the name of the Air Force project in which it was developed, Orion.
It has long been believed that the 1962 Limited Test Ban Treaty prohibits the use of nuclear pulse space propulsion. After a survey of the Orion project and its results, and a review of the applicable law, this paper concludes that language in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty may override the Test Ban agreement to permit non-weapons use of nuclear explosives for propulsion.
With a new space race taking place, and with important actors like China not subject to the Test Ban Treaty at all, the subject of pulsed nuclear space propulsion deserves another look. We hope that this paper serves as a springboard to discussion.
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