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Paul sutton
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Project Orion nuclear spacecraft

September 4, 2020 · in Sci-fi · · 9 · 3.1K

This project started with the 1:144 Saturn 5 rocket kit, however I wanted to do something a bit different with it.
Project Orion was a spacecraft concept that the USA seriously considered in the late 1950s and early 60's. The space race was ramping up and both the moon and mars were potential destinations however, there was (and still is) a problem with chemical rocket technology, that being it has a fundamental limit on the thrust it can produce which limits how much stuff it can lift and makes travel times very long (8 to 10 months to mars). Project Orion solved these problems by using nuclear rather than chemical power. The idea was that a nuclear bomb was ejected out the back of the ship and then explodes. The expanding ball of plasma hits the large pusher plate at the rear, imparting momentum to it and pushing the ship forward. The pusher plate is linked to a very robust shock absorber system. The system would eject and detonate a bomb approximately every second. The concept might sound a bit mad but from an engineering point of view would work (you tube has a number of videos on the non nuclear test models). In the end the partial nuclear test ban treaty of 1963 effectively ended the project.

The model uses the Saturn 5 kit for the rear section and for some parts of the front crew section. The spine and pusher plate are scratch built from plastic card and rod while the various cylindrical, hexaganol and spherical fuel and cargo pods are cast from scratch built resin moulds. The moulds were made using different sized glue sticks and a section of a container for toothpicks as the masters. This proved to be the trickiest part of the build as I had a number of issues with miscasts and air bubbles, most of which were sorted by switching to a different brand of resin.

Hope you find it interesting

Reader reactions:
3  Awesome

7 additional images. Click to enlarge.

9 responses

  1. Madness, pure madness, this idea of exploding nuclear bombs to power a spaceship. However, VERY cool and nicely executed model project.

    Found this page that might be interesting

  2. Very cool model; very crazy idea. But a good reminder of the insanity of the late 1940s/1950s with all the government "The Atom Is Your Friend" propaganda. Right up there with the NB-36 project.

  3. Such a crazy idea! Never heard about it!
    Well, those were the days...
    Your project is simply amazing, Paul! I love all those modifications and scratchbuilds you did.
    This is an eye catcher!

  4. The original design of Orion which was an orbiting nuclear powered, nuclear armed battleship that rumors claimed Orion freaked out JFK so much he cancelled it on the spot when the Pentagon showed him the project.

    Your version fits the Werner Von Braun 1950s/1960s aesthetic of the Lindberg Man in Space and and/or a Gerry Anderson production look. Creative excellent work!

  5. Nice! If I remember correctly this concept was what powered the Discovery in the 2001 a space odyssey.

    • Kubrick’s original concept for the Discovery was indeed going to use this form of propulsion. There are numerous images online of this version of the ship. I’m not sure why he didn’t use it in the end. Maybe it just didn’t look how people at the time thought a spaceship should look.

  6. 🙂 ... Greetings ... 🙂 :
    A totally absurd and insane idea was behind this concept, really it was so nonsensical that I consider it a shame that a human being wasted brain matter on this.
    On a big turn ... you have done a great clean work on this model. It looks all set for a museum once the display case is placed over it.
    Very stunning work Paul, thank you for sharing this one.

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