The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

"Pulsed Nuclear Space Propulsion and International Law: Some Preliminary Observations"

Any fan of SF and law has got to be interested in this one.


Besides being InstaPundit, Prof. Glenn Reynolds has also written and taught about, among other things, space law; he and Leigh Outten (a former student of his who has a master's in nuclear engineering from MIT) have cowritten an article on space law and Orion drives, which I found very interesting. The abstract:

Pulsed Nuclear Space Propulsion, researched in the 1950s and 1960s by such eminent physicists as Freeman Dyson, Ted Taylor, Theodore von Karman, and Hans Bethe, involves propelling large spacecraft using compact nuclear explosions from specialized atomic devices. This technology is often known by the name of the Air Force project in which it was developed, Orion.

It has long been believed that the 1962 Limited Test Ban Treaty prohibits the use of nuclear pulse space propulsion. After a survey of the Orion project and its results, and a review of the applicable law, this paper concludes that language in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty may override the Test Ban agreement to permit non-weapons use of nuclear explosives for propulsion.

With a new space race taking place, and with important actors like China not subject to the Test Ban Treaty at all, the subject of pulsed nuclear space propulsion deserves another look. We hope that this paper serves as a springboard to discussion.

Much worth reading, and only 23 pages.