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A colony ship is sent to Enceladus. It has a nuclear reactor to provide power to life support, electric engines etc... Upon arrival, the colonists also need a reactor to melt holes into the ice and to provide power for living.

Is it realistically possible that a nuclear rector could be designed to perform in both roles? And could the colonists survive handling and reinstalling the already used core with all the fission fragments and daughter elements in it?

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    $\begingroup$ So. The role of the reactor on the spaceship is to provide energy... and the role of the reactor on the surface of the Moon is to... also provide energy. I'm not sure what you mean by "both roles"? $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Sep 3 '17 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ Your question suggests this is a fission reactor. It sounds like the reactor powers the ship's systems and especially its engines. They seem to be either ion or plasma propulsion systems. Is this correct? This may be essentially a matter of design. A nuclear reactor to power the colony ship enroute to Enceladus and the colony itself on & after. arrival. This would make the reactor a power source in two configurations. Not entirely implausible, therefore, feasible. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 3 '17 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android Yes, there are ion or plasma thrusters (electric engines as I've said) $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Sep 3 '17 at 20:44
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Unless I am greatly mistaken, there isn't even a need to move the reactor. You can simply route cables from the reactor to other buildings or tools in order to give them electricity. I assume this ship is landing? If so it could likely itself be a central structure to the colony, that serves many functions early on, including housing the initial nuclear reactor.

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Yes, it is plausible for a nuclear reactor to fulfill both roles.

When the reactor is designed to be used on a space ship, it should be designed to be operational under different acceleration conditions. It should work both in zero-g and when the ship is accelerating.

Enceladus has a surface gravity of 0.113 m/s². When the reactor can operate while the ship accelerates with more acceleration than that (which would be required in order to land safely on Enceladus), it can operate on the surface of Enceladus. The reactor might be designed to only deal with acceleration in the direction of the main engines and not for handling lateral acceleration. The best way to land on a planet without an atmosphere is with the main engines facing down, so the reactor would end up in the correct orientation. But when your ship does not land that way for some reason (like accidentally landing on sloped terrain and tipping over), the reactor might need to be rotated before it can be used. That might be quite a lot of work (even in low gravity).

But if you want the mission to use two different reactors during different mission phases for some dramaturgic reason, there are some possible justifications:

  • One reactor is optimized for burst power generation during acceleration phases, while the other is optimized for continuous low-power operation as required by a permanent colony.
  • One reactor actually must be operated when under acceleration (for example because it uses acceleration to compress the fissile material enough to reach criticality) while the second is rated to be operated only below 0.12 m/s² acceleration, or some delicate parts break (transportation locks prevent them from breaking during the journey).
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