Sometimes the boffins of bad ideas at our weapons labs are occasionally compelled to admit the atrocious quality of the things they come up with preclude them ever being implemented. And news of this was brought to us this week courtesy of Steve Aftergood at Secrecy Blog who posted a .pdf from a national lab explaining that special secret drone propulsion systems/technology would not be pursued due to "poltical conditions."
"A certain technology that could extend the mission duration and capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) was favorably assessed last year by scientists at Sandia National Laboratories and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation. But they concluded regretfully that 'current political conditions will not allow use of the results.'
"The assessment was carried out to explore the feasibility of next generation UAVs. The objective was 'to increase UAV sortie duration from days to months while increasing available electrical power at least two-fold,' according to a June 2011 Sandia project summary."
Although the developers of this new potential drone propulsion power system do not specifically name it in the posted .pdf, the technology and studies most probably stem from use of nuclear materials -- radioisotopes and the power-generating processes of fission and radio-decay.
This triggers recall of the secret Timber Wind project of the Nineties, ideas and hardware for use of nuclear reactors in rocket propulsion, born of the same lab featured in this new announcement.
Aftergood and FAS blew the lid off Timber Wind and the resulting sunlight caused it to wither and die. Global concern over potential US tests and flying of nuclear reactor run rockets did not count as good publicity.
"The discovery of the hyper-classified Timber Wind program was an inspiration for the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, since we considered it a compelling instance of classification abuse ... Timber Wind was canceled shortly after it became public, and other nuclear rocket initiatives likewise faded away in the 1990s, as the effort to develop nuclear rocketry for military or civilian applications surged and then collapsed, leaving behind only a bunch of good stories."
Like news of Timber Wind many years ago, rumors of killer drones loaded with radioisotopes and fission products for purposes of propulsion over the impoverished regions of the world to hunt terrorists and civilians who are in the wrong place -- would doubtless really generate the good will. Even moreso than now.
"No near term benefit to industry or the taxpayer will be encountered as the result of these studies," write Sandia boffins, a bit glumly.
This content was first published at Dick Destiny blog.
Atomic drones canceled. Count your blessings.