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Nuking Venus
gndonald
post Feb 17 2006, 03:50 PM
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I was reading an online article on the various plans to explode nuclear weapons on the moon, when I spotted a reference to Soviet plans to 'calibrate' seismic models of Venus by exploding a nuclear weapon there, supposedly this planning went on until the 1970's which is well after the limited test ban treaty.

Obviously this would not have been a single craft mission, as seismographic equipment would have to have been emplaced before the explosion. Does anyone have any further information on just what was planned?
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gndonald
post Feb 19 2006, 03:46 PM
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I wouldn't necessarily classify the idea as 'crazy'. Grossly irresponsible perhaps, a bad public relations move certainly, but not insane.

The basic science objective is understandable, using seismic waves to determine the interior composition of a planet or moon has been tried by the US, successfully on the Moon during the Apollo program and unsuccessfuly during the Viking mission to Mars.

What the Soviets were probably planning to do was land several probes fitted with seismonitors on one side of Venus and detonate the nuke on the other side, this would give them the ability to amongst other things determine whether or not Venus has a liquid core.
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JRehling
post Feb 19 2006, 10:24 PM
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A friend of mine who was a seismologist certainly complained that a problem (for geologists) is that there aren't enough earthquakes. Of course, for the rest of us, there are more than enough.

The thing about nuking Venus is that presumes we would even need to create a big blast. It may very well have quakes all the time. They probably wouldn't be so nice as to occur at the moment and magnitude and location that we desire, but we ought to check...
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tty
post Feb 20 2006, 07:21 AM
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QUOTE (JRehling @ Feb 19 2006, 11:24 PM) *
A friend of mine who was a seismologist certainly complained that a problem (for geologists) is that there aren't enough earthquakes. Of course, for the rest of us, there are more than enough.

The thing about nuking Venus is that presumes we would even need to create a big blast. It may very well have quakes all the time. They probably wouldn't be so nice as to occur at the moment and magnitude and location that we desire, but we ought to check...



Actually a nuclear (or sufficiently large conventional) explosion is much better than an earthquake from a seismological point of view because:

1. It's a point source

2. Time, location and energy release are known to a high precision

Actually I fail to see what is "squirrelly" or "irresponsible" with this idea. It seems to be a sensible and scientifically quite valuable concept. The only possibly dangerous part would be the launch of the nuclear charge(s), but they would in any case have to be in ballistic warheads which are built to survive re-entry and have been thoroughly researched for decades. For extra safety you could use oralloy weapons, in which case even an atmospheric breakup would have negligible environmental impact.

The main problems would be the test-ban treaty (if it applies to the surface of Venus), and a mental barrier to using nuclear explosions for any reason whatsoever.

tty
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gndonald
post Feb 20 2006, 04:08 PM
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QUOTE (tty @ Feb 20 2006, 03:21 PM) *
Actually a nuclear (or sufficiently large conventional) explosion is much better than an earthquake from a seismological point of view because:

1. It's a point source

2. Time, location and energy release are known to a high precision

Actually I fail to see what is "squirrelly" or "irresponsible" with this idea. It seems to be a sensible and scientifically quite valuable concept. The only possibly dangerous part would be the launch of the nuclear charge(s), but they would in any case have to be in ballistic warheads which are built to survive re-entry and have been thoroughly researched for decades. For extra safety you could use oralloy weapons, in which case even an atmospheric breakup would have negligible environmental impact.

The main problems would be the test-ban treaty (if it applies to the surface of Venus), and a mental barrier to using nuclear explosions for any reason whatsoever.

tty


I'm not sure about the test ban treaty, but as to the comment about using a standard ballistic warhead, I suspect that the Soviets would have used a custom built device based around the landers they were using at the time.

Why, because re-entry to Earth's atmosphere is a known factor, but the Venusian re-entries were always somewhat difficult, both the Soviets and the US had problems with electical discharges and the corrosive nature of the Venusian atmosphere.

The weight and external shape of the device would have been dependant on the period in which it was launched due to the types of boosters available at that time. Thus, had the mission been launched in the late 60's/early 70's the device would have had to fit into the Verena 4-8 lander type which generally weighed about 390 to 490 kg. The entire probe weighed around 1200kg.

Missions of this sort launched after 1975 would have used the Verena 9-18 lander type which weighed around 660 to 750 kg, with the entire probe being about 5000kg in weight.

Don P Mitchells' site is as good a source for the known aspects of the Soviet Venus program as any and is the source of the figures presented above.
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Guest_DonPMitchell_*
post May 8 2006, 05:04 PM
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I think seismology on Venus will be very valuable. Placing a number of seismographs and then detonating a few thermonuclear charges on the surface could instantly give a lot of data about the layers and densities of material inside Venus (or Mercury or Mars). Given how many nukes have been set up in the Earth's atmosphere, I would wring my hands about setting of a couple on Venus.

The legal issue is not the Test Ban Treaty, but an earlier treaty that forbids nuclear weapons in space. The US and USSR realized early on that orbiting nuclear platforms would be strategically destabilizing. Not sure exactly when this happened, but it was one reason Korolev's GR-1 missile was cancelled around 1960. The technology got rolled into the Block-L escape stage of the Molniya rocket...so this digression has something to do with planetary probes!
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Bob Shaw
post May 8 2006, 09:32 PM
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I think the various treaties covered objects in orbit around the Earth rather than in space - many nuclear devices have been launched into space! Perhaps a direct Venus transfer orbit insertion of a nuclear charge with no Earth orbit loiter would still be legal...

Bob Shaw


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Guest_DonPMitchell_*
post May 9 2006, 12:58 AM
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QUOTE (Bob Shaw @ May 8 2006, 02:32 PM) *
I think the various treaties covered objects in orbit around the Earth rather than in space - many nuclear devices have been launched into space! Perhaps a direct Venus transfer orbit insertion of a nuclear charge with no Earth orbit loiter would still be legal...

Bob Shaw


I mean a nuclear bomb of course. Reactors and RTGs are allowed. It is true that a few atomic bombs were detonated by sounding rockets well above the atmosphere. The infamous American "Starfish" test killed a bunch of comsats. They were banned by an early treaty also.

By the way, be sure to see Peter Kuran's documentary, Trinity and Beyond, if you're interested in the history of nuclear weapons.
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gndonald
post May 9 2006, 02:22 AM
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QUOTE (DonPMitchell @ May 9 2006, 08:58 AM) *
I mean a nuclear bomb of course. Reactors and RTGs are allowed. It is true that a few atomic bombs were detonated by sounding rockets well above the atmosphere. The infamous American "Starfish" test killed a bunch of comsats. They were banned by an early treaty also.

By the way, be sure to see Peter Kuran's documentary, Trinity and Beyond, if you're interested in the history of nuclear weapons.


Actually it was "Starfish Prime" that did the damage, "Starfish" did not even make space due to a launch failure, supposedly (I haven't seen it yet.) Kuran's later Nukes in Space has additional information on the US launches (Test Series: 'Hardtack', 'Argus' & 'Dominic') and also on four Soviet space tests, which I had never heard of.

I've managed to run down a page (in Russian) that has the information on the planned nuclear seismic mission to Venus, using BableFish I was able to translate it and the planning seems to have envisaged a flight after 1975. There is also some information on plans for long duration (up to one month on the surface) landers.
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ugordan
post May 9 2006, 07:38 AM
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QUOTE (gndonald @ May 9 2006, 03:22 AM) *
Actually it was "Starfish Prime" that did the damage, "Starfish" did not even make space due to a launch failure, supposedly (I haven't seen it yet.) Kuran's later Nukes in Space has additional information on the US launches (Test Series: 'Hardtack', 'Argus' & 'Dominic') and also on four Soviet space tests, which I had never heard of.

Yes, it was Starfish Prime, the original Starfish test failed because the Thor launch vehicle was issued a destruct code by the range safety after its engine failed one minute into flight.

Another very notable failure from the same test series was "Bluegill". On the first launch attempt the rocket was destroyed in mid-flight because the missile tracking system failed. The rocket performed well for all purposes, but being unable to confirm it's on the right course, the RSO blew it up.
The second attempt, called "Bluegill Prime" was a much more spectacular failure - the Thor (again) engine failed immediately after ignition and range safety blew the thing up while still on the launch pad. Heavy plutonium contamination of the utterly destroyed launch pad followed. It's interesting to realize that when they destroy a warhead, they do so without producing any nuclear yield.
The third attempt - "Bluegill Double Prime" failed yet again due to Thor rocket failure - it started tumbling and was destroyed by the range safety officer. That has got to be an interesting job, being in charge of blowing up a rocket cool.gif
They finally got it on the fourth (!) launch attempt - "Bluegill Triple Prime". Just goes to show you the persistence of these folks when it comes to blowing very powerful stuff up.

I recommend Nukes in Space to anyone even remotely interested in rockets (there's footage of Wernher Von Braun, in case you were wondering what he did for a living before Saturn V smile.gif ) and nuclear weapons as it has plenty of good footage of both and it's a very interesting documentary. It could have been better in some aspects - it doesn't go into details such as the above string of failures, but it does give a good overall picture of the situation back then.


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Bob Shaw
post May 9 2006, 11:05 AM
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Gordan:

Any idea of how much Pu got spread over Florida and it's environs as a result of those bomb tests? I bet it puts the whole hysterical response to RTGs - designed to survive almost all accidents - into some sort of perspective!

Bob Shaw


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ugordan
post May 10 2006, 07:50 AM
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QUOTE (Bob Shaw @ May 9 2006, 12:05 PM) *
Any idea of how much Pu got spread over Florida and it's environs as a result of those bomb tests? I bet it puts the whole hysterical response to RTGs - designed to survive almost all accidents - into some sort of perspective!

Plutonium? Practically no Pu at all. Plutonium is actually not the greatest health factor, other fission product are much more dangerous in the long term-- cobalt-60, strontium-90, etc. All these high altitude tests had the "advantage" of being... well -- HIGH up in the air so any fission products were either launched into space (not very likely, but still) or took months and months to descend to the surface. By that time most of the seriously radioactive stuff decays.
In short, high altitude testing amounted only to a small fraction of the total world fallout because of reasons given above and the fact most of them were lower yield devices. As far as regular atmospheric tests go, you don't want to know how much fallout was released... We're not talking local contamination here -- this stuff (especially from the megaton tests) gets deposited GLOBALLY on a timescale of months. And there were tons and tons of this radioactive soup produced over the years. Tons may sound like little, especially on a global scale, but this stuff makes radium (the first radioactive element discovered) look like a bad joke.

Reading about what was done in those years (even ozone depletion was probably serious, but noone measured THAT back then), it makes me wanna cry and laugh at the same time seeing how some people feel the need to protest now about a few kilos of Pu-238 on a few probes. During the cold war they sat silently knowing that bigger bombs being tested would help defend them against those pesky commies. How times have changed...


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Posts in this topic
- gndonald   Nuking Venus   Feb 17 2006, 03:50 PM
- - Steffen   Amazing (crazy) plans for Venus!   Feb 19 2006, 10:48 AM
- - gndonald   I wouldn't necessarily classify the idea as ...   Feb 19 2006, 03:46 PM
|- - JRehling   A friend of mine who was a seismologist certainly ...   Feb 19 2006, 10:24 PM
|- - gndonald   QUOTE (JRehling @ Feb 20 2006, 06:24 AM) ...   Feb 20 2006, 12:20 AM
|- - tty   QUOTE (JRehling @ Feb 19 2006, 11:24 PM) ...   Feb 20 2006, 07:21 AM
|- - gndonald   QUOTE (tty @ Feb 20 2006, 03:21 PM) Actua...   Feb 20 2006, 04:08 PM
|- - DonPMitchell   I think seismology on Venus will be very valuable....   May 8 2006, 05:04 PM
|- - Bob Shaw   I think the various treaties covered objects in or...   May 8 2006, 09:32 PM
|- - DonPMitchell   QUOTE (Bob Shaw @ May 8 2006, 02:32 PM) I...   May 9 2006, 12:58 AM
|- - gndonald   QUOTE (DonPMitchell @ May 9 2006, 08:58 A...   May 9 2006, 02:22 AM
|- - ugordan   QUOTE (gndonald @ May 9 2006, 03:22 AM) A...   May 9 2006, 07:38 AM
||- - DonPMitchell   QUOTE (ugordan @ May 9 2006, 12:38 AM) Ye...   May 9 2006, 09:49 AM
|||- - ugordan   QUOTE (DonPMitchell @ May 9 2006, 10:49 A...   May 9 2006, 10:08 AM
||- - Bob Shaw   Gordan: Any idea of how much Pu got spread over F...   May 9 2006, 11:05 AM
||- - gndonald   QUOTE (Bob Shaw @ May 9 2006, 07:05 PM) G...   May 9 2006, 01:26 PM
|||- - Bob Shaw   QUOTE (gndonald @ May 9 2006, 02:26 PM) G...   May 9 2006, 02:01 PM
|||- - gndonald   QUOTE (Bob Shaw @ May 9 2006, 10:01 PM) G...   May 9 2006, 03:22 PM
||- - ugordan   QUOTE (Bob Shaw @ May 9 2006, 12:05 PM) A...   May 10 2006, 07:50 AM
||- - Bob Shaw   QUOTE (ugordan @ May 10 2006, 08:50 AM) R...   May 10 2006, 10:49 AM
|- - ljk4-1   QUOTE (gndonald @ May 8 2006, 10:22 PM) A...   May 9 2006, 02:26 PM
|- - DonPMitchell   QUOTE (ljk4-1 @ May 9 2006, 07:26 AM...   May 9 2006, 06:18 PM
|- - ljk4-1   QUOTE (DonPMitchell @ May 9 2006, 02:18 P...   May 10 2006, 11:19 AM
|- - ugordan   QUOTE (ljk4-1 @ May 10 2006, 12:19 P...   May 10 2006, 11:42 AM
|- - DonPMitchell   QUOTE (ugordan @ May 10 2006, 04:42 AM) I...   May 10 2006, 12:26 PM
|- - ugordan   QUOTE (DonPMitchell @ May 10 2006, 01:26 ...   May 10 2006, 12:53 PM
|- - DonPMitchell   QUOTE (ugordan @ May 10 2006, 05:53 AM) I...   May 10 2006, 01:37 PM
- - BruceMoomaw   Overall, I think this just proves again that there...   Feb 20 2006, 01:14 AM
- - edstrick   One mission (or instrument on a mission) that is e...   Feb 20 2006, 08:42 AM
- - BruceMoomaw   Personal courtesy was not one of Khrushchev's ...   May 9 2006, 11:54 PM
|- - DonPMitchell   QUOTE (BruceMoomaw @ May 9 2006, 04:54 PM...   May 10 2006, 12:24 AM
- - ljk4-1   Here are more details and useful links on the Sovi...   May 19 2006, 03:49 PM


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