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    Nuclear powered Planes, Trains and Automobiles
    Articles, Blog

    Nuclear powered Planes, Trains and Automobiles

    August 29, 2019

    To quote L.P. Heartly’s 1953 book “The G-Between”, “The past is a different country they do things differently there”. That’s definitely something that could be applied to our attitude to the newly discovered atomic power in the late 1940s and 50s. Within just a few years after the first atomic bombs have been dropped on Japan it seems as though the atom would be the cure-all for all our energy needs with power “too cheap to meter” as was once quoted. Whilst ships and submarines of the leading navies went nuclear, companies put forward ideas for atomic powered planes, trains, yes and indeed automobiles. The first idea of using a radioactive power source for a car in this place radium dates back to 1903 and in 1937 Further analysis of a concept thought that it would need 50 tons of shielding to protect the driver. But with the development of small scale self-contained reactors for ships and submarines in the 1950s the idea of atomic cars was back on the table. In 1958 Ford unveiled a uranium powered concept car called with a typically 1950s futuristic name the “Ford Nucleon” in essence it was a scaled down submarine reactor in the back of the car which would heat stored water into high-pressure steam which will then drive two turbines. one to power the wheels any other to drive an electrical generator. Ford engineers anticipated that it would have a range of around 5,000 miles before you would need to nip into your local Ford dealers and have uranium core swapped out for a new one. The passenger compartment was situated over the front wheels allowing for the bulk of the reactor and a heavy shielding to be more centrally placed and keep you as far away from the reactor as possible. As was the optimism of the 1950s and the naivety of the general public, it was believed that nuclear power would eventually replaced petrol power in the future. Something which doesn’t really bear thinking about if you imagine a car crash returning to a major nuclear incident. Ford only ever made scale models of the Nucleon as they anticipated the miniaturization of the reactors and lighter shielding materials. aAs these didn’t appear and with the increasing public awareness around radiation and nuclear waste, the project was dropped and the models ended up in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Now if you thought the Ford Nucleon was a bit far-fetched, just look at the French Simca Fulga, a 1958 concept car designed by Robert Opron. This was meant to show how cars might look in the year 2000 powered by a nuclear reactor with voice control and guided by radar and an autopilot that communicated via a control tower. At speeds of over 150 kilometers per hour, two of the wheels would retract and it would balance on the remaining two with the aid of gyroscopes. Also in France in 1957-58 to the Arbel Symetric was proposed with either a gas generator or 40 kilowatt nuclear reactor called the “Genestatom”. This would use radioactive cartridges made from nuclear waste however, the French government disproved the use of nuclear fuel in cars and the development that was stopped. Of all the land-based forms of transport trains were the most likely candidates to be nuclear powered especially those travelling across large areas where electrification have not been done. In the U.S. a nuclear-powered locomotive called the X-12 was put forward in a design study for the Association of American railroads and several other companies by Dr. Lyle Borst, one of the early members of the Manhattan Project which had created the first atomic bomb. The X-12 would use liquid uranium-235 oxide dissolved in sulfuric acid in a three foot by one foot container surrounded by 200 tons of shielding. The reactor would then create steam to power turbines to drive four electrical generators. These would create the 7000 horsepower of electricity to power the motors. This was about the same as a four loco unit with each loco having 1,750 horsepower but would only need refueling once a year although it did cost about twice the price of a four loco unit. The whole locomotive would be 160 feet long and weigh 300 tons and would have an articulated rear section where all the cooling radiators and condensers would be placed. But the cost of developing such a locomotive without government subsidies and the highly enriched Uranium-235 together with the huge cost of liability insurance in case of an accident made the X-12 uneconomical and it was not pursued by any of the train companies. However in 1950 Soviet Russia money was not the same issue as it was in the U.S. In places like the North Far, East and Central Asian desert it was thought that electrification of newly built railway lines was not advised at the time. So in 1956 the Ministry of Transport for the USSR came up with a plan to make super-sized nuclear trains which would run on tracks three times the width of normal ones. The train could be used in areas where there was little in a way of supplies or infrastructure to support normal railways and whilst it was stopped it could also serve as a small power station and generate electricity and hot water heating for weeks or months if required in remote locations. The train would use the super-sized tracks to accommodate the extra weight of all the radiation shielding but whilst that might be enough to protect the drivers and passengers in front and behind the loco, the sides and the underneath might still irradiate the environment. The other problem is that infrastructure like embankments, bridges, tunnels would all have to be enlarged for the extra wide track over thousands of miles in some of the world’s coldest and toughest environments. This and the radiation problem put an end to the super-sized Soviet nuclear train. And so we finally come to planes. The idea of nuclear power planes in the 1950s was that bombers carrying atomic bombs could be kept permanently on standby flying around the Arctic circle for days or weeks at a time without the need to refuel and ready to attack at a moment’s notice. Both the U.S. and the Soviets worked on nuclear powered planes. There were two methods of making nuclear powered jet engines. One was simple and lightweight and this was the direct cycle engine. In place of a combustion chamber, the air comes into the jet and in his directed through the reactor core, this would cool the corel and heat the air which will then be directed back into the jet exhaust as thrust. The problem with this method is that if the shielding is not good enough then the air could become irradiated so you would leave a trail of radiation behind a plane. The second method used an indirect way of linking the air via a heat exchange to the reactor, so that the air could not get irradiated but it also meant a lot of extra heavy plumbing and complexity which would make the plane heavier and slower and more susceptible to attack. The biggest problem that both the U.S. and the Soviet faced with nuclear powered planes was getting enough thrust from the engines and the extra weight of the shielding to protect the crew. While no actual flights were made by nuclear powered engines in the U.S. they did use a highly modified Convair B-36 peacemaker with a real reactor to test a distributed method of radiation shielding. By the time president Kennedy was elected in 1961, the direct cycle engine developed by General Electric was regularly making high levels of thrust under nuclear power in ground-based tests. Work on what was to be the WS-125 long-range nuclear bomber had continued from 1954 1961 but when new intelligence from the U-2 spy planes and satellites showed the the Soviets had much less in the way of bombers when the U.S. thought and that the Russian nuclear power bombers just didn’t exist, Kennedy scrapped the WS-125 bomber program in favor of more missile submarine development. But after the fall of communism in Russia in the late 1980s it was revealed that the Soviets had actually flown a nuclear-powered version of a Tu-95 “Bear” long-range bomber 40 times between 1961 and 1969. Under pressure in believing that the Americans were close to creating a nuclear bomber the Soviets flew tests with direct cycle nuclear powered engines. However the engines were inefficient and spewed radiation into the air. The plane also had to fly with no shielding to protect the crew otherwise it would have been too heavy to take off. Although it worked within three years some of the crew had died due to the radiation exposure on the test flights and this was the real Achilles heel of the nuclear power planes. Whilst the engines may work the shielding was still a major problem. Today we could with new technologies which have arisen since the 1950s build smaller and safer nuclear reactors. We’ve already done this a spacecraft like the Voyager probes of the 1970s which are still going in deep space and for Landers like the Mars Curiosity rover 2012. Already nuclear-powered surveillance drones that don’t need crew or heavy shielding that could fly for weeks or months and nuclear powered trains in Russia are being proposed once more. So the future may well glow bright with portable nuclear power and as always please subscribe, rate and share.

    Ultra High Speed Cameras – How do you film a tank shell in flight or a Nuclear bomb test?
    Articles, Blog

    Ultra High Speed Cameras – How do you film a tank shell in flight or a Nuclear bomb test?

    August 15, 2019

    In my last video I looked railguns, now
    whilst I was reviewing the footage I started wondering how they filmed the
    projectiles in flight. These are not the typical sort of high-speed camera shots
    where you see a bullet hitting a target for example, these are tracking the
    projectile from the barrel down the firing range. From the footage it looks
    like the camera is panning around and following the projectile but that would
    be impossible, the tank round is traveling at over 1,500 meters per
    second and would normally look like this. For all of you out there who said it’s
    done with mirrors then you are absolutely correct.
    It works by having a computer-controlled high-speed rotating mirror in line of
    sight of a high-speed camera. The speed of the rotation of a mirror matches that
    of the object being followed so the faster the object is traveling like a
    railgun projectile the faster the mirror would turn to keep up with it. Using this
    method the object can be kept in the field of view for a hundred meters or so
    or about ninety degrees of the mirrors movement. In this example the tracker 2
    from specialized imaging you can see the mirror and to its left where the camera
    is. Because the mirror is computer-controlled it can be programmed
    to follow objects that accelerate even linearly or non linearly. Now rotating
    mirrors aren’t new in fact they were some of the first high-speed cameras and
    are still some of the fastest in the world capable of up to 25 million frames
    per second and were used to record atom bomb blasts. During the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb they required cameras that could record the
    first few microseconds of explosion. In order to create a nuclear chain reaction
    and achieve critical mass a baseball-sized piece of plutonium had to
    be compressed to about half its size. This was achieved by using an array of
    focused high explosive lenses surrounding the plutonium core. In order
    to make it work effectively the explosives 32 of them in all had to be
    triggered within one microsecond, if any were delayed then the compression
    of the core would be unequal and the reaction would even be much less or may
    not even happen at all. Using a super high-speed camera it will
    be possible to see how effective the explosive lenses had been just a few
    microseconds after detonation. At the time the fastest cameras were Fastax
    cine cameras and could achieve around 10,000 frames per second or one frame
    per hundred microseconds, this still wasn’t fast enough though. The first
    high-speed rotating mirror camera was the Marley, invented by of a British
    physicist William Gregory Marley, the Marley camera used a rotating mirror an
    array of lenses inside a curved housing each focused onto a single piece of film
    around the edge of the case. This could record a sequence of up to 50 images
    onto 35 millimeter film at a 100,000 frames per second. But by the
    time of a Trinity test it was outdated and too slow to record the ultra quick
    reaction in the plutonium core. Head of the photography unit Julian Mack said that
    the fixed short focus and low quality of the lenses would probably have made the
    Marley camera pictures useless. He helped develop the Mack Streak camera
    which had a 10 million frames per second limit, thats one frame every hundred
    nanoseconds. By the 1950s Harold Edgerton had developed the Rapatronic camera
    the name coming from Rapid Action Electronic this used a magneto-optic
    shutter which allowed it to have an exposure time as short as 10 nanoseconds
    thats ten billionths of a second. This was first used with a hydrogen bomb test of
    Eniwetok Atoll in 1952. However they only took one image so to
    see the first few microseconds of a nuclear detonation up to 10 were used
    in sequence with an average exposure time of three microseconds. The images
    were then played back and blended together to give the impression of a
    film. For the British nuclear tests the Atomic Weapons Research
    Establishment created for C4, a huge rotating mirror camera weighing in at
    around 2,000 kilograms and was the fastest in
    the world at the time. This could record up to 7 million frames per second who
    have a mirror rotating up to 300,000 revolutions per minute and recorded the
    first British atom bomb test on the 3rd of October 1952. The rotating mirror
    cameras are still in use today but now they use highly sensitive CCDs
    to replace the filmstrip. The Brandaris 128 and Cordin model 510 have 128 CCD’s and a gas driven turbine mirror driven by helium to achieve up to 25
    million frames per second at a resolution of 500 x 292 pixels for the
    brand iris and 616 x 920 pixels of recording. At 25 million
    frames per second the mirror itself is running at 1.2 million
    revolutions per minute that’s 20,000 revolutions per second so fast of the
    atmosphere inside the camera is 98% helium to reduce for friction and the
    pressure waves that would occur in normal air. And so onto something I think
    you may find rather interesting. It’s not the fastest camera in the world but this
    one is or it was at the time in 2013 the fastest real-time tracker of a moving
    object and was developed by the Ishikawa Oku Lab at the University of Tokyo. Here
    it is tracking a ping pong ball and keeping it in the center of a frame all
    times both during a game and when it is being spun around on a piece of string.
    It does this by moving two mirrors in front of the camera one for the X
    movement and Yvon for the Y movement it then uses software similar to face
    tracking software to provide feedback to control the mirrors with a response time
    of just one millisecond. It can also be used to control a projector and in this
    scene it’s projecting an image onto the ping-pong ball whilst it’s been bounced
    on the bat, you can see the little face change on the ball at the top of its
    travel. So anyways I hope you enjoyed this look at some of the equipment behind some of the most amazing footage recorded to date
    these aren’t the fastest cameras in the world now but it’s still amazing to
    think what can be achieved by mechanical means. So as always thanks for watching
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