NASA Team Would Use Surface Nuclear Reactor To Analyze Planets
Aviation Week & Space Technology 08/01/2005, page 15
Edited by Frank Morring, Jr.
A nuclear reactor developed to supply power on planetary surfaces could also help scientists analyze the composition of those surfaces with great precision, under a concept developed by a team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Headed by physicist Sam Floyd, the team proposed using neutrons from a space-rated nuclear reactor to perform Prompt Gamma-ray Activation Analysis (PGAA) at asteroids, Kuiper Belt objects and small moons like Mars' Phobos and Demos. Neutrons from the reactor core are beamed to the surface, generating a gamma ray signature of the elements being hit by the neutron beam. Based on data from the research reactor at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., which uses PGAA in precise chemical analysis for industry, archeology and other applications, Floyd's team is developing models of signatures a reactor beam could be expected to generate in space. The Goddard work grew out of NASA's Project Prometheus, which aims to develop advanced nuclear sources for exploration power generation and, ultimately, propulsion.