The paper will present a theoretical design for the use of nuclear power as a source of power for propulsion and power supply for high altitude platforms, or HAP’s.. A short history of past proposals for nuclear power for airborne craft will be examined and a more practical application of ‘derivative’ nuclear power will be examined in light of the long endurance times needed for these high altitude ‘airborne satellites’ platforms.
Keywords: High Altitude Platforms, High Altitude Long Endurance, HAP, HALE, Nuclear Power, Alternative Power Sources, Airborne Satellites
The paper will present a theoretical design for the use of nuclear power as a source of power for
propulsion and power supply for high altitude platforms, or HAP’s. High Altitude Platforms, or HAP’s
are ‘airborne satellites’ that operate at high altitudes, around 100,000 feet above sea level, which is
above commercial aircraft altitude levels. HAP’s are also known as High Altitude Long Endurance
platforms, or HALE (Tice, 2004: 38-39)
Nuclear power for aircraft was initiated by the United States Army Air Force on May 28, 1946 and
transferred research to a joint Atomic Energy Commission-United States Air Force in May
1951(Wikipedia, 2009a: 1). The program was abandoned in 1961 (Wikipedia, 2009a: 1).
A more practical application of nuclear energy is the ‘derivative’ use of nuclear power by way of ‘energy
carriers’, pathways from nuclear power to high altitude platforms through electricity and hydrogen power.
Electricity to power batteries and hydrogen fuel cells that will replace traditional hydrocarbon energy
supplies (Hori, 2008: 412). Hori (2008) has listed four ways nuclear power can be used to produce
hydrogen (Hori, 2008: 412):
1.) Electrolysis of water.
2.) High temperature electrolysis of steam.
3.) Therma-chemical splitting of water.
4.) Nuclear-heated steam reforming of natural gas.
The Office of Naval Research, ONR, has tested a hydrogen powered UAV, un-manned aerial vehicle, that
uses a hydrogen fuel cell technology to allow for a 24 hour endurance flight with a 5 pound payload
(Naval Research Laboratory, 2009: 1).
The noted scientist Hans Bethe has stated that nuclear fission reactors produce wastes that contain
actinides, elements heavier than uranium, that have a half-life of nearly 25, 000 years, in the case of
Plutonium 239, with 10 half-lives required to cut the radioactivity by a factor of a thousand and the
resulting waste needing 250,000 years of containment away from the biosphere (Bethe, 1991: 199). A
current article in Scientific American has noted that General Electric has a ‘fast reactor’ that can reduce
the volume of actinides by an order of 90% and cut the half-life to less than 1,000 years (Wald, 2009: 53).
One must be an optimist to think that no changes in the current state of the world will occur in a thousand
The future of nuclear power in high altitude platforms is a possibility if an ‘energy carrier’ model
is used in the form of electricity and hydrogen power. While the author feels that nuclear
energy is far from a energy solution, the potential use of existing nuclear reactors to make
‘derivative’ nuclear power in the form of electricity and hydrogen power is a possibility for the
The author was interested in the work of Richard Feynman on his proposed nuclear reactor powered jet
engine that heated air inducted into the engine and then reached an ‘escape velocity’ and into orbit
(Gleick, 1992: 219). The author has tried to get information on a proposed patient on such a design by
Feynman in the late 1940’s at the Los Alamos Laboratory, but was unsuccessful in the inquiry (DOE,
- Quote paper
- Professor Bradley Tice (Author), 2009, Nuclear Power for Propulsion and Power Supply for High Altitude Platforms, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/198660