Project Orion was a Cold War-era study into the idea of using the thrust generated by an atomic bomb to propel a spacecraft. By using energetic nuclear power, Orion offered both high thrust and high specific impulse — the holy grail of spacecraft propulsion. It offered performance greater than the most advanced conventional or nuclear rocket engines now under study. Cheap interplanetary travel was the goal of the Orion Project. Its supporters felt that it had great potential for space travel, but it lost political approval because of concerns with nuclear fallout from its propulsion. This concern could be partially addressed by building it in orbit. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 is generally acknowledged to have ended the project.
Game and Story Use
- In an alternate-history or near-future setting, this can make for a plausible relatively low-tech space travel solution.
- Project Orion is especially likely to be dusted off if there's some sudden pressing need and not enough time or money to do / research something else.
- In one of those sci-fi settings where everything is nuclear-powered, this would be one of the more plausible things.