Welcome

The Story of Orion
History
How It Worked
Legality
Fallout
Future

People
Freeman Dyson
George Dyson
Stanislaw Ulam
Ted Taylor

Books
Project Orion
Fiction

Videos
Factual
Fiction


 
     
Orion Drive   >   The Story of Orion   >   Legality
   

"Practically every DOD/Air Force and NASA evaluation over the past 3 years [prior to 1965] has concluded that ORION provides the only capability for missions well beyond those achievable with chemical or nuclear rocket propulsion." - Lieutenant Colonel John R. Burke, US Air Force Nuclear Power Division
Legality of Project Orion

When Project Orion was first being considered in the 1950s, there were no legal restrictions in international law regarding exploding nuclear weapons in the atmosphere. Today however there are two main treaties that need to be considered, when contemplating the legality (in international law) of the system - both of which potentially limit the use of nuclear explosions, even for peaceful purposes, such as launching Orion.

Another issue that needs to be considered is whether nuclear explosions are necessary in order to develop Project Orion in the first place. In the 1960s, the scientists involved in the project wanted to utilize underground nuclear tests to develop some Orion components. Today however, this is probably unnecessary since the state of the art of computer simulation technologies has greatly advanced since that time.
  1. The Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests In The Atmosphere, In Outer Space And Under Water
    [This treaty is often referred as the Partial Test Ban Treaty ("PTBT") or Nuclear Test Ban Treaty ("NTBT")]

    This treaty was signed by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the USSR on August 5th 1963, and came into effect on October 10th 1963. It has subsequently been joined by over 100 other countries. As the name implies, the treaty prohibits "any nuclear weapon test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion", in the atmosphere, in space or at sea - that is to say, anywhere except underground.

    The underground exception is of course sufficent for any nuclear tests that might be requiired to develop Orion components. The key question then is the matter of nuclear explosions in the atmosphere or in space.

    At the time of the Treaty's signing, advocates of Orion, including the US Air Force, hoped an exception would be included in the treaty for peaceful nuclear explosions and/or space travel. The Treaty as currently in force, clearly presents a problem for using Project Orion - both the option of a ground-based launch, or building the system in space (so there would be no fallout), are prohibited.

    It turns out however that the problem however is not insurmountable. The Treaty itself includes a procedure for amendment (Article II), by majority vote, provided all three original signatories agree to the amendment. Additionally, the Treaty potentially allows for a party to withdraw, provided it gives 3 months notice to all the other parties (Article IV).

  2. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

    The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all nuclear explosions, whether for military or civilian purposes, in all environments. This treaty would therefore present a serious problem (unless renegotiated) for launching Orion, and for any test explosions that might be necessary during development.

    At the time of writing however, the United States has signed this treaty but not ratified it, and the treaty itself states that it will not come into force until 180 days after it has been ratified by every single one of forty-four required states listed in Annex 2 of the treaty (including the United States among many others).

    As the treaty is not yet in force, and has not been ratified by the United States it currently presents no obstacle to Project Orion. Furthermore, if the US wishes to retain the option of developing Orion in future, it can do so by simply not ratifying the CTBT.
It is also worth noting that future developments of Orion may well fall completely outside the scope of both treaties. For example, instead of using nuclear explosions, fusion might be triggered in deuterium or tritium pellets using electron beams or lasers, or catalyzed using antimatter. These approaches are of course probably beyond current technology, whereas the basic Project Orion has probably been feasible since the late 1950s.

The author of this article is not a lawyer, and this article is not intended as legal advice!
  • If you are a sovereign state and are contemplating developing a nuclear space travel system, you should seek competent legal advice on all relevant legal issues, before deciding whether to proceed.

  • If you are not a sovereign state, but are nevertheless contemplating developing a nuclear space travel system, then, you should seek competent legal advice on all relevant legal issues before deciding whether to proceed. In this case, it may also be the case that you could benefit other types of professional advice too!

Your Comments

Please feel free to comment on this page:

   



 
 
 

 
 
Copyright © 2008-2017, Answers 2000 Limited

CERTAIN CONTENT THAT APPEARS ON THIS SITE COMES FROM AMAZON SERVICES LLC. THIS CONTENT IS PROVIDED 'AS IS' AND IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE OR REMOVAL AT ANY TIME.
CERTAIN CONTENT THAT APPEARS ON THIS SITE,COMES FROM AMAZON EU S. r.l. THIS CONTENT IS PROVIDED 'AS IS' AND IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE OR REMOVAL AT ANY TIME.

Disclosure: Our company's websites' content (including this website's content) includes advertisements for our own company's websites, products, and services, and for other organization's websites, products, and services. In the case of links to other organization's websites, our company may receive a payment, (1) if you purchase products or services, or (2) if you sign-up for third party offers, after following links from this website. Unless specifically otherwise stated, information about other organization's products and services, is based on information provided by that organization, the product/service vendor, and/or publicly available information - and should not be taken to mean that we have used the product/service in question. Additionally, our company's websites contain some adverts which we are paid to display, but whose content is not selected by us, such as Google AdSense ads. For more detailed information, please see Advertising/Endorsements Disclosures

Our sites use cookies, some of which may already be set on your computer. Use of our site constitutes consent for this. For details, please see Privacy.

Contact Us   Privacy   Terms of Use   Advertising/Endorsements Disclosures

In Association With Amazon.com
Answers 2000 Limited is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
In Association With Amazon.co.uk
Answers 2000 Limited is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.
All trademarks are property of their respective owners.
All third party content and adverts are copyright of their respective owners.