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Orion and Digital Science


The 91st Carnival of Space offers up Brian Wang’s look at Project Orion, with links to photos and videos relating to nuclear pulse propulsion, one of which I embed here from the This is Rocket Science site. For those who like to take potentially workable ideas up to gigantic scales, Brian discusses the Super-Orion, all eight million tons of it, with the capacity to take three million tons of cargo anywhere in the Solar System.

The pusher plate would have reached a diameter of 400 meters. Brian notes the scale:

400 meters in diameter means that the area (footprint) is about 30 football fields. 4 football fields long by 8 football fields wide. The height of the super-orion is about the height of skyscraper like Taipei 101 or Petronas Towers. The base of the Great Pyramid forms a nearly perfect square with about 230 m (756 feet) on a side. When newly completed, the Great Pyramid rose 146.7 m (481.4 ft)—nearly 50 stories high. Super-Orion would have had the volume of about 10 Great Pyramids.

And don’t miss Bob Nichol’s first post on the Galaxy Zoo blog as the project moves on to its second phase, Galaxy Zoo 2. The new project already has two million galaxy classifications in hand, a remarkable piece of work for this Internet-based program, which uses input from volunteers to classify galaxy types. Says Nichol:

That is staggering for us astronomers as we are usually expect our experiments to take a lot longer. For example, if one wants to use a telescope to study something in the sky, one must write a proposal 6 months in advance, submit it for scrutiny, and then await your allocation of time on a telescope. The process can take nearly a year and then after your night staring at the stars, it can take a further year to analyse the data (assuming it wasn’t cloudy!). Only then are we ready to ask questions of the data and test our observations against our original hypothesis written two years ago in a haste!

Yes, and now the Galaxy Zoo is showing how things happen on Internet time. How we continue to use it, and the new uses we find for it as we go along, will be a major story in itself in terms of how we get science done. I like Nichol’s comment that asking ‘how many galaxies have a bar through the middle?’ is the kind of question that would once have required a career to answer, using the services of grad students to do the grunt work. Now we build the data sets in days. The more venerable among us can remember when CCDs seemed like a revolution. Now they’re only part of the digital reality of a newly enhanced astrophysics.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • kurt9 February 21, 2009, 19:39

    An 8 million ton space craft lifting off from the surface of the Earth would have been a sight truly to behold!

    One wonders, if Heim Theory checks out, if the space drive that comes out of it would allow for operation of 8 million ton vehicles from Earth’s surface.

  • James M. Essig February 22, 2009, 0:31

    Hi Folks

    If pure fusion bombs could be used to propell such an 8 million ton space craft, perhaps, it could reach 0.05 C to 0.1 C thus permitting the craft to support 40 year missions to the Proxima Centauri System or 58 year trips to Barnard’s star. I can not think of a better use for what would otherwise be designed as nuclear weapons.

    A series of pure fusion bombs laid out in space in the form of a fusion pellet runway might make for an excellent propulsion system to power such a craft. If high enough accelerations could be sustained, then such a craft might travel down a 0.01 LY long runway and reach a gamma factor of perhaps anywhere from 1.5 to perhaps 3 or 4 thus permitting travel to any star system within a 100 LY radius of Earth in 25 years ship time. The crew could live in hydrostatically sealed modules and breath oxygenated liquid in order to handle 5 to 100 sustained Gs during the acceleration process.

    The number of stars within 100 LY of Earth is estimated to be 14,600 according to the following URL.


    That is one heck of a lot of teritory to explore.

    By the way, 8 million tons is the mass of about 80 modern U.S. Navy nuclear powered aircraft carriers.



  • JD February 22, 2009, 0:46

    Orion would be worth it if only for the expression I envision on a hypothetical alien exploration commanders face (or approximate) when he turns to his first officer and exclaims ” They’re moving around their solar system by exploding hundreds of WHAT behind their spacecraft”!!??

  • george scaglione February 22, 2009, 13:55

    kurt 9 i can only agree with you as to how impressive such things might be! the only question i raise is,how soon? of late i have been talking alot about one of my main hopes,which i think is not far off the mark – that science and engineering will progress (as they seem to have),in an exponential way. i wonder if we might see such things by the end of the century? naturally,the sooner the better.but no matter how we slice it…cool stuff! seems like i am the second person to comment on this subject. certainly hope to read alot more soon.thank you very much your friend george

  • JD February 23, 2009, 3:21

    All joking aside now there has been some work performed which could evolve the orion concept. If memory serves the basic concept was to use magnetic “pinching” of a subcritical mass to give more easily used and controlled detonations (with an apparently greatly increased efficiency).

    Sadly we won’t see orion or the evolved concept I vaguely remember. To many special interest groups would go psychotic at an actual project proposal. These people equate the word nuclear with someone trying to destroy their Saab and instantly oppose it.

  • ljk February 23, 2009, 8:29

    More info and color photos here:


    To quote:

    In interviews, the designers contemplated the large ship as a possible interstellar ark. This extreme design could be built with materials and techniques that could be obtained in 1958 or were anticipated to be available shortly after. The practical upper limit is likely to be higher with modern materials.

  • andy February 23, 2009, 15:38

    the only question i raise is,how soon?

    As a method for getting off the Earth’s surface, hopefully never!

  • Brian Wang February 23, 2009, 20:44

    the sub-critical system is mini-mag orion

    In terms of EMP and Fallout from Orion and some details on how the pulse units work. Shaping the charge to direct more blast of filler material at the pusher plate. EMP and Fallout issues could be reduced to negligible levels. Especially if bombs are more fusion and less fission.


    Because people cannot seem to understand that this can be safe and only will let nations that wanted to saber rattle in the 50s, 60s and 70s with above ground tests. Then we would have to use other means to get construction facilities to the moon. Then we would have the means for the big missions elsewhere but we would still have to move a lot of stuff with whatever method we are permitted to use.

    My main reasons for putting it up is.
    1. The pictures are cool
    2. It would work
    3. People who believe that space is out of reach and technically impossible need to understand that we could do it and could have done it if not for political and inter-agency choices (NASA wanting chemical Apollo) back in the day. People seem to think that a true space age did not happen because it was just technically not possible. No it can be done but people were not willing to do what would work.

    Andy as one of the ones who would need to be convinced.
    1. Look at the info on EMP and fallout. If you believe that it could be made very safe would you be on board with its use ?
    2. How about the nuclear gaseous core Liberty ship? No nuclear emissions in the atmosphere.
    3. how about if Inertial Electrostatic propulsion could work ?

    If not then what are the specific objections ?

  • kurt9 February 24, 2009, 1:46

    The design philosophy behind Orion was correct. Make the system such that it is robust, conceptually simple, large payload capacity, and above all, cheap.

  • george scaglione February 25, 2009, 11:33

    andy i thought for a moment about what you said about never wanting to get off the earths surface using the orion method.correct me if i am stiking out in the wrong direction…but yeah… it sure occured to me that…wouldn’t that mean nuclear detonation below the ship on the earths surface!? yeah not so cool i agree.in my opinion things of this nature would be much better off if built in space from which point they could safely “take off”! – and kurt,yes sir above all cheap would be probably the most important factor! most especially in the current financial climate.but if you really think about it how is a project on this scale ever going to be all that “cheap”!? but hahaha something else just occured to me,by the time we seriously consider building this project might not it be already replaced by something that we see as being in some way better?! or easier or yes cheaper etc etc you tell me. :) respectfully guys , your friend george

  • Adam February 28, 2009, 4:19

    Hi george

    Super-Orion launched off the ground via convential explosives before kicking in the nukes.

    As for Brian’s enthusiasm I agree about “Orion”. I personally wouldn’t worry about the fall-out angle if it really did spread out so thinly – I have more of a cancer risk everytime I walk outdoors because of pollution and UV. Here in Brisbane, Australia, we have issues with ultra-fine dust particles and strong UV light. Frequently I see people with scarring from having incipient skin-cancers cut out.

    However I do have issues with the size and quantity of the pulse-units, especially their fission triggers. Effectively it’s a proliferation of weapons capable devices, all autonomously able to be detonated. Thus why my preference is a scheme akin to Winterberg’s laser-driven D-D pulse units – each unit is detonated by a single-shot implosion-pumped argon laser separate to the charge itself. Definitely not weapons capable and totally free of fission-charges.

  • ljk March 2, 2009, 10:48

    February 28, 2009

    The Nuclear Orion Home Run Shot, All Fallout Contained

    The typical analysis of the nuclear Orion external pulse propulsion rocket is to use constant charges (bombs) every 1.1 seconds to launch with people inside who experience 4Gs or less.

    Nuclear Orion can achieve launch costs of less than $1/kg and perhaps a tiny fraction of that. This is 1000 to 20,000 times cheaper than current costs.

    Also, the system proposed here can just be a true nuclear bomb powered cannon. Not a chemical cannon launching nuclear bomb projectiles but a nuclear bomb powered cannon. So the projectiles and the launches do not have wait until we have working Orion ships to fire. We can just fire Orion like shells with cargo. We can use existing nuclear bombs from the existing arsenals.

    Full article here:


  • ljk October 16, 2009, 23:37

    No, it’s not real (as far as I know), but imagine if the Soviets developed
    their own Orion nuclear-pulse spacecraft and used it for war:


    Description of the Web site made by Rhys Taylor:

    “An alternative history universe in which Project Orion went ahead in the 1960s more or less as planned. However, it’s now know that the Russians also had there own version of the project. Naturally, the launch of an Orion means the cold war continues. In this scenario, two fleets of super-Orion class battleships (~1 million tonnes each) engage near Callisto. The aim is for a pretty high level of realism. People complain about visible lasers and
    sound effects. These people are fools.”

    All of the images here:


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