Pulsed Nuclear Space Propulsion and International Law: Some Preliminary Observations

23 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2022

See all articles by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

Glenn Harlan Reynolds

University of Tennessee College of Law

Leigh Outten

University of Tennessee College of Law

Date Written: March 14, 2022

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Reynolds, Glenn Harlan and Outten, Leigh, Pulsed Nuclear Space Propulsion and International Law: Some Preliminary Observations (March 14, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4057500 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4057500

Glenn Harlan Reynolds (Contact Author)

University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )

1505 West Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996-1810
United States
865-974-6744 (Phone)

Leigh Outten

University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )

United States

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