Sensational military technology for the future of space

In a message to the Federal Assembly yesterday, Vladimir Putin released sensational information about Russian military projects. And the most remarkable thing about them is that, in addition to solving the current task of preventing a nuclear conflict, the implemented technologies can very seriously help the cosmonautics of the future.

Tu-22M3M with X-32 missiles, photo

The return of Pluto?

The main news, in my opinion, was the announcement of a cruise missile with a nuclear power plant.

Technically, a cruise missile nuclear power plant can be implemented in one of two ways. In the first case, the reactor generates electricity, which is transmitted to an engine that rotates the blades that propel the rocket into motion. In the second case, an air-jet engine is used - air is supplied to the reactor, heated there and thrown out, creating traction. Is it possible to determine which option is chosen?

A frame from a video
If this frame is from a recording of a real flight, which is very likely, given the visual difference with simple computer graphics in other parts of the video, the designers realized the second option - the fan with an electric motor should not smoke. And, it turns out that a project of sixty years ago is being revived at a new technological level.

SLAM, drawing by Damon Moran, translating, full size

From 1955 to 1964, the United States developed a supersonic low-altitude rocket SLAM with a ramjet nuclear engine. It was created to supplement the fleet of bombers and act as a possible alternative to the still being designed intercontinental ballistic missiles. SLAM was going to implement several advanced technologies at that time. In order not to get on the radar screens, the rocket had to move at low altitude. The guidance system would be protected from interference by the fact that it had to work completely autonomously on a terrain map. And interception would make it difficult to move at supersonic speeds. Conventional fuel for flying in this mode would be spent very quickly (remember that the most economical is to travel at subsonic speed and high altitude, like passenger liners fly), it was necessary to look for an engine with greater autonomy. And as such, it was proposed to use a nuclear jet engine. The resulting design would have several damaging factors at once. The main payload was assumed to be 16 thermonuclear charges with a capacity of one megaton, discharged over targets defined in the flight program. In addition, movement at supersonic and low altitude generated a shock wave, damaging everything along the route. The engine exhaust was radioactive, and the reactor itself was noticeably “phonyl”, further contaminating the area. And finally, after the program was completed and all the bombs were dropped, the rocket was supposed to crash at a strategic point, scattering highly active fragments of the reactor there.

To create an engine in 1957, the Pluto project was launched. In order for the engine to work, it was necessary to solve many complex problems, for example, at an operating temperature of 1400 degrees, the existing alloys became too fragile, we had to learn to use ceramics with beryllium and zirconium. The materials worked at the limit, for example, the self-ignition temperature of the reactor elements was only 150 ° above its operating temperature. In 1961, the first version of the Tory-IIA engine successfully worked for several seconds.

Tory-IIA, photo by the US Federal Government / Wikimedia Commons

In 1964, the Tory-IIC version successfully worked for five minutes at full capacity of 513 megawatts. To simulate supersonic flight conditions, it was necessary to assemble a separate installation and supply air to the reactor, which was previously heated to 500 degrees and compressed to 20 atmospheres.

Tory-IIC, photo by the US Federal Government / Wikimedia Commons

But then the project stalled at once for several reasons. First of all, even though the engine exhaust was less radioactive than expected, it was difficult to find a suitable area for testing. Also, over the years, intercontinental ballistic missiles have been mastered, which turned out to be simpler, cheaper and cleaner than SLAM. And, finally, politicians considered the project too provocative and did not want the USSR to create similar missiles in response. As a result, in the summer of 1964, the project was closed. But his achievements did not disappear - the guidance system on a map of the area became the standard for cruise missiles, and the materials created were useful in solving other problems.

Back to the present. Compared to Tory reactors, Russian design is striking in its compactness. Vladimir Putin compared the size of the rocket with the X-101, which, according to public information, has a diameter of 74 cm. For comparison, the SLAM reactor had a diameter of one and a half meters. Also, the initial mass of the X-101 is estimated at 2 tons, and SLAM - at 20 tons.

Radioactive exhaust makes it impossible to use such missiles outside the global nuclear war scenario, when everyone will not care about the environment, but in space a compact reactor will be extremely useful. For example, you can take a working fluid with you and get the upper stage with a high specific impulse, similar to NERVA or RD-0410 . Since the nuclear reactor is clean enough before launch, it can be placed on existing missiles, equipped with a shell in case of an accident, and turned on already in space. Further, the concepts of vehicles flying in the atmosphere of other celestial bodies become real. For example, there is a MITEE project (MIniature ReacTor EnginE - a miniature atomic engine) for flights in the atmosphere of Jupiter. Until today, it was a purely paper idea, but now it turned out that humanity has an engine that is potentially suitable for such an interplanetary probe.

MITEE presentation slide, source

A few words about hypersound

Three other projects related to hypersonic devices - warheads for the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, maneuvering Avangard warheads and the Dagger aircraft complex.

The development of these systems suggests that the laws of motion at hypersonic speed are becoming more understandable. And this knowledge brings closer the creation of hypersonic lower stages, similar to the unrealized Soviet project "Spiral", and the revival of the concept of launch vehicles for air launch .


The first satellites launched minimally altered combat missiles - the R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile from the USSR and the Juno carrier, assembled on the basis of the Redstone medium-range missile and Sergeant military missiles in the United States. Today’s secret military technologies in 10-20-30 years will become available for civilian use and will also move the space progress of mankind.