A policy issued by President Trump this week coinciding with public meeting of National Space Council has new guidelines about how to use nuclear power systems in space orbits and beyond. The revised policy states that both commercial and government spacecraft can carry nuclear systems to power their systems. The policy has setup a 3-tier system to review payloads that carry nuclear power systems like radioisotope thermoelectric generators and other technology like fission reactors. This is done to keep tabs on amount of radioactive materials that is on board the spacecraft and the inherent dangers of radiation exposure if there is an accident.
The spacecraft that are within first two tiers can be approved by their relative sponsoring agencies and depending on case to case they will be reviewed by a new agency called Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Board which NASA has been told to setup within 180 days. Spacecraft that fall within the third category require the authorization of president and that can be done only through National Security Council. These can be done for national security missions and Offices of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for selective missions.
Director of OSTP Kelvin Droegemeier stated that the primary objective of setting up this system is to ensure that strong nuclear safety measures are conducted before launch of any space based nuclear system. He emphasized the need for clear guidelines to enable mission planners and approval authorities of launch plans to ensure that launch safety is not compromised under any circumstances. He stated that the policy is a step closer to supporting better use of space nuclear systems and sustenance of American skills along with development of technologies for nuclear space systems. Though the policy has not specified details about technology development or its related issues it does ask the Secretary of Transportation to make guidelines by next year for private organizations that are planning to launch spaceships with space nuclear system.