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Meeting Notes and Presentations

The 2011 Nuclear and Emerging Technologies for Space meeting was by all accounts a great success, hosting just under 200 attendees distributed almost evenly among NASA, DOE/national laboratories, industry, and universities. Conference participants were pleased to once again have a venue for discussing the latest research and development in space nuclear technologies, and space exploration missions enabled by those technologies.

Summaries for plenary sessions made on the opening day of the conference and focused panel sessions are available below. Where available and approved for release by the presenter, presentations are also available for download by clicking on the presentation title. Speaker biographies can be accessed by clicking on the name of the speaker (biographies not available for panel sessions). Be sure to check out the keynote presentations made at the dinner events as well!

Quick Links - Jumps to points within page

Opening Plenary

Plenary II

Special Session: Addressing the Non-Technical Challenges of Developing Space Nuclear Technology

Opening Dinner

Dinner at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and Technology

Panel Session: Pu-238 Supply and Production

Panel Session: Fission Power and Propulsion

Addtional Papers / Presentations not available on the NETS-2011 Proceedings CD-Rom

The NETS-2011 Proceedings (with full papers) are now available at the ANS store. To order a copy, please go to the ANS Store 

If you would like to be added to the mailing list for information about future NETS meetings, or to provide feedback on the NETS-2011 conference (constructive criticism, suggestions for meeting topics / speakers, etc), send email to

Opening Plenary
The NETS-2011 Opening Plenary welcomed a highly distinguished panel of speakers to discuss historical space nuclear programs, current programs (and currently desired programs), and how to make these more successful in light of budget constraints, public perception, politics, and policy. Presentations and session summaries on these historical perspectives, current and potential technologies and missions, and the policy environment for space nuclear technology can be found at the links below.

Session Summary

Historical Perspectives on Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion - (Speaker Notes)
H. Finger, retired, formerly held several key positions within AEC and NASA

Potential Mission Applications for Space Nuclear Systems
J. Casani, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Special Assistant to the Director

Current NASA Interest in Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion
J. Adams, Deputy Director, Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters

Radioisotope Power Systems: The Quiet Technology
R. Lange, U.S. DOE, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Business and Technical Support

Viable Development Strategies for Space Fission Power and Propulsion (oral presentation only; no presentation file available)
M. Griffin
, former NASA Administrator and King-McDonald Eminent Scholar for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville

Plenary II

The second Plenary session of the NETS 2011 conference provided insights into applications of nuclear technologies to potential science missions. The session was chaired by Dr. Steven D. Howe of the Center for Space Nuclear Research.

Session Summary

Opening Remarks
            Dr. Steven Howe
, Center for Space Nuclear Research

The invited speakers, their affiliations, and their presentations were:

Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Dr. Ralph McNutt, Applied Physics Laboratory / Johns Hopkins University

Expanding Science Knowledge: Enabled by Nuclear Power
Karla B. Clark, Jet Propulsion Laboratory / California Institute of Technology

Increased Science Return and Space Nuclear Power (presentation not available)
Dr. Richard Ambrosi
, University of Leicester / UK

Special Session: Addressing the Non-Technical Challenges of Developing Space Nuclear Technology

Chair: Dr. Michael Griffin, former NASA Administrator and King-McDonald Eminent Scholar for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville
Moderator: Dr. Elizabeth Newton, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Policy Research Program Director

Fluctuations in space exploration goals are a significant, non-technical obstacle for the end-to-end development and implementation of nuclear and emerging technologies for space exploration. When goals change mid-stream, research and development progress and accomplishments may become partially or completely inapplicable with respect to the new goals. If goal fluctuations are more rapid than the time it takes for research efforts to manifest, then the capabilities the technology would have provided are not obtained. The historical record indicates a cyclic nature in these fluctuations. Explicitly addressing problems stemming from these cycles could be the first step in facilitating implementation of space nuclear systems and other technologies to completion. Panelists opened the session by providing a description of the policy making and technical development work environments; identification of problems, their causes, and possible solutions; and discussion of possible implementation strategies.

No prepared remarks are available for download; alternately, a detailed summary is provided at the link below.

Full Session Summary - Coming Soon!!

Moderator: Dr. Elizabeth Newton

Panelists: Dr. Michael Griffin

Mr. Chuck Atkins

Mr. Harry Finger

Dr. Michael Houts

Dr. George Schmidt 

Dr. Stephen Johnson

Opening Dinner

Keynote Address: by Dr. Glen Schmidt, former test engineer for the SNAP-10a program 
Keynote Address:
Overview of SNAP Reactor Development and Flight

The opening dinner at NETS-2011 featured a keynote address by Dr. Glen Schmidt, test engineer for SNAP-10a - the only fission reactor the US has flown in space. SNAP-10a overcame many significant engineering challenges on the way to mission success; we need to take a close look at past programs to understand both how and why things were done a certain way as we endeavor to achieve flight for a fission system once again.

Dinner at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and Technology

Keynote Address: Dr. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, Apollo 17 Astronaut, former U.S. Senator (NM)

Keynote Address: Reflections on the Apollo Program

At a special evening event on Wednesday, February 9, conference participants were treated to a presentation by Dr. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, former US Senator for New Mexico and Apollo 17 astronaut - the last man (and the only scientist) to walk on the moon.

Track III Panel Session: Pu-238 Supply and Production
Session Chair: T. Sutliff, NASA Glenn Research Center
Session Description:
The current supply of plutonium-238 (238Pu), used to power deep space missions for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is nearly exhausted. Previous facilities that supplied 238Pu at the Savannah River Site are now closed. A new supply chain is planned using existing reactors at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and in existing chemical recovery facilities at ORNL. However, this plan requires that preparations for target design qualification, target fabrication, irradiation, and chemical recovery begin now in order to establish the infrastructure necessary to supply the amounts needed and to ensure the availability of new material at the end of 2015.

Session Summary:

The panel session on Pu-238 supply and production was overwhelmingly popular among attendees overflowing the session room. Four presentations were provided by the panelists, describing:

  • NASA mission needs for Radioisotope Power, and expected isotope supply for power systems;

  • DOE system provider role in fulfilling NASA mission needs for current and future RPS;

  • ORNL involvement in a possible future production restart of Pu-238; and

  • Recent Radioisotope Power Systems Efforts: Pluto New Horizons and Mars Scientific Laboratory, describing post-Pu-238 production operations at ORNL, LANL, INL and SNL.

Questions from the floor were many and varied, demonstrating high interest and engagement among the meeting attendees. Topics covered during the Q/A session included safety, production byproducts, varying (increasing) production quantity, consideration of alternate approaches/isotopes, and relationships to stakeholders and political influences.


L. Dudzinski, NASA Headquarters - NASA Radioisotope Power Systems Needs

A. Caponiti, DOE Headquarters - Pu-238 Production - Restoring a Reliable Supply

R. Wham, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Future Supply of Pu-238 for Radioisotope Power Systems

(full paper by R. Wham included in conference proceedings)

S. Johnson, Idaho National Laboratory Recent Radioisotope Power Systems Efforts, ...

Track II Panel Session: Fission Power and Propulsion 

Session Chair: L. Mason, NASA Glenn Research Center - Introduction

Session Description: The history of space fission power systems has included many program starts and stops, and only one U.S. flight system launched into space (see SNAP-10a discussion in the Opening Dinner presentation by Dr. Glen Schmidt). The object of this panel session was to tap the knowledge of several "grey beards" who have participated in these programs in order to learn what steps should be taken to secure a successful outcome. The session included short presentations by the panelists on establishing mission pull, essential building blocks for a successful program, the relationship of government and industry, and lessons from our past (see links below to download). Following the presentations, the audience joined in a lively discussion with the panelists to debate the best path forward for space fission power.

Session Summary


J. Nainiger, Alphaport Inc. How to Establish A Mission Pull

S. Bhattacharyya, RENMAR Enterprises Inc. What are the Critical Building Blocks

S. Bailey, Bailey Engineering and Management Inc. Government and Industry Working Together

A. Weitzberg, Consultant What We Can Learn from Our History

Additional Papers/ Presentations

Study of a 100kWe Space Reactor for Exploration Missions
E. Cliquet, J-M. Ruault (CNES Launchers Directorate,Evry, France), J-P. Roux, L. Lamoine, T. Ramee (AREVA TA, Aix en Provence, France), C. Poinot-Salanon, A. Lokhov, S. Pascal (CEA DEN/DM2S, F-91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France)

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