U.S. government researchers have drawn up plans for a new generation of nuclear-powered drones capable of flying over remote regions of the world for months on end without refuelling, as reported by Nick Fielding at The Guardian.Sandia National Laboratories — the government’s principal nuclear research and development agency — and defence contractor Northrop Grumman developed the blueprints for the new unmanned air vehicles.
The highly sensitive research into “ultra-persistence technologies” set out to solve three problems associated with drones: insufficient hang time over a potential target, lack of power for running surveillance and weapons systems, and lack of capacity for communications.
The project succeeded in providing far more surveillance time and intelligence information per mission while increasing available electrical power at least two-fold. The nuclear-powered drones would also eliminate the need for forward bases and fuel supplies in remote and possibly hostile areas.
From The Guardian:
A halt has been called to the work for now, due to worries that public opinion will not accept the idea of such a potentially hazardous technology, with the inherent dangers of either a crash – in effect turning the drone into a so-called dirty bomb – or of its nuclear propulsion system falling into the hands of terrorists or unfriendly powers.
The Project Accomplishment Summary stated that the results will not be put to use because of “political realities” despite the fact that “the technical goals for the project were accomplished.”
Sandia released the following statement to confirm that the project had been completed:
“Sandia is often asked to look at a wide range of solutions to the toughest technical challenges. The research on this topic was highly theoretical and very conceptual. The work only resulted in a preliminary feasibility study and no hardware was ever built or tested. The project has ended.”
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