You could send the waste with near solar escape velocity to travel on a really long ellipsis trajectory, at the furthest point you can get rid of the remaining kinetic energy with minimal fuel and let the waste fall back straight into the Sun. Subtracting Earth's orbital velocity is by far not the optimal method to reach the Sun.
Solar escape velocity is about 16.5km/s* , and since ~99% of this manoeuvre's delta-v budget is used at launch the entire delta-v cost is asymptotically this value.
*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Horizons#Launch (see paragraph 4)
No, it's about 42 km/s, i.e., sqrt(2) times the Earth's orbital velocity around the Sun, which is 30 km/s. New Horizons was launched to take as much advantage of the Earth's orbital velocity as it could, so that the rocket didn't need to provide all of the 42 km/s of delta-v needed for solar escape.
(You could use the same trick for your scheme, of course. The main issue I see with your scheme is that it greatly lengthens the time that the waste is out in space.)
Meanwhile, if you succeed in sending nuclear waste into the Sun what do you think happens to it? It doesn't go away, it just gets vaporized and then scattered into the solar wind.
To "get rid of the remaining kinetic energy" would only result in the object getting escape velocity relative to earth. The object would never have "stopped" relative to it's orbit around the sun but even at it's further point would be traveling with fairly close to the same angular velocity as the earth (as described in the article etc).
This manoeuvre would be preferable to the article's alternative (a Hohmann transfer reducing periapsis to the sun's radius without the final circularising burn) in all cases where the initial semi-major axis (relative to the sun) is roughly greater than 11.94 solar radii (ignoring minor factors that make this case slightly different to the wikipedia example).
edit: to make it clear, I'm talking about a heliocentric bi-elliptic transfer after Earth escape, where the initial orbit is equivalent to Earth's orbit, and the final inner orbit can be imagined as one scraping the surface of the sun, but since the sun would destroy the craft, the final circularising burn is not required (in sloppy terms: hitting the sun on the edge would be easier than hitting it straight on).
the burn to fall into the sun happens way before any possible return to earth if that orbit were not altered... all that happens is that you start near the earth - thats unavoidable because the rocket comes form the earth.
it will of course cross the earth's orbit on the way into the sun, but, with the exception of very small ranges of orbits the chance of hitting the earth on return is tiny, and easily avoided with some timing.
I'm not saying it's a big risk; the chance of a catastrophic launch malfunction is probably a lot greater. But it's definitely a long-term potential hazard that needs to be accounted for.
its hard enough to hit things when we want to
What you're missing is that both waste and the earth are already in orbit around the sun whereas the maneuver your link describes involves switching between orbits around different smaller bodies.
Edit: Which is to say as the other have mentioned, this doesn't send the waste into the sun (as the parent post implied) but merely on some orbit similar to the earth as the article described.
A bi-elliptic transfer is used for transferring between two orbits around the same body. In some situations, this is more efficient than a straightforward Hohmann transfer, at the cost of taking much, much longer.
For a Hohmann transfer, you reduce the ship's orbital velocity relative to the sun, reducing the orbit's perihelion to somewhere inside the sun. That requires cancelling out almost all of the Earth's orbital velocity.
For a bi-elliptic transfer, you first increase the ship's orbital velocity relative to the sun, increasing the orbit's aphelion to somewhere in the outer solar system. That's your first Hohmann transfer, going apparently the wrong direction, but requires less than 40% as much energy as dropping it into the sun did. Then, at aphelion, when the ship's orbital velocity is lowest, you reduce the ship's orbital velocity to drop it's perihelion inside the sun. From that far out, and at such an eccentric orbit, that requires only a fraction of the energy it did from Earth's orbit.
The entire manuever, potentially, could be far more efficient than a direct transfer. It just takes far longer, and if the ship fails to make the second maneuver, it'll be left in an orbit that crosses Earth's orbit.
its about transferring from one orbit to another with a large elliptical orbit inbetween, its very well established. (and e.g. something i am familiar with before googling it or looking at a wikipedia page)
The author acknowledges the existence of that argument, but then insists that the "real objection" is difficulties in orbital trajectories. I'll believe that's the real objection if we start considering sending nuclear waste on a comparably simple orbital journey into outer space.
If you're going to bury it in the ocean, your best bet would be to bury it near a subduction zone. But then you have the earth itself possibly being the cause of the container cracks and leaks.
I ask because I genuinely don't know. I'd be OK with it if scientific consensus and consultation between the ocean and nuke people said we know enough about them to say there aren't issues. I don't want to just say "lets just dump them in a place I don't personally care about that's really far from me".
Or we could get over our stupid fear of recycling. The stuff's only hazardous because we haven't taken all the energy out of it yet.
Nuclear fuel reprocessing is performed routinely in Europe, Russia and Japan. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_reprocessing
This was nearing completion in the form of the Integral Fast Reactor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_fast_reactor) at the Argonne National Laboratory, until it was cancelled in 1994 at the behest of President Clinton and John Kerry.
The reason for its cancellation? The belief that any nuclear reprocessing is bad for "nuclear proliferation". I cannot even comprehend the mental gymnastics required to justify shutting down vital research which didn't even produce isolated plutonium when the country possessed thousands of nuclear weapons and tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium. How the fuck would this have any affect at all on "nuclear proliferation"?
This is cargo cult science at best, call it an allergy to anything "nuclear". Sort of like how the government collects a huge tax on reactor "waste", used it to build the Nevada Yucca Mountain repository (temporary construction jobs are always popular, as is "free" money), but just somehow never is going to get around to actually using the place. Well, that might change when Harry Reid retires, we'll see (heh, never considered that he was roughed up so badly he lost the use of his right eye due to eeeevil corporate nuclear power types, instead of his brother or "the mob").
La Hague apparently has 1/2 of the global light water reprocessing capacity:
That Wikipedia table is interesting, but it is hard to understand who is currently doing what from it. I think Japan is mostly sending their spent fuel to France.
Form the wikipedia page:
"Ordinarily (in spent nuclear fuel), plutonium is reactor-grade plutonium. In addition to plutonium-239, which is highly suitable for building nuclear weapons, it contains large amounts of undesirable contaminants: plutonium-240, plutonium-241, and plutonium-238. These isotopes are extremely difficult to separate, and more cost-effective ways of obtaining fissile material exist (e.g. uranium enrichment or dedicated plutonium production reactors)"
As the wikipedia article points out a very good approach to deal with nuclear waste would be burn the waste in pyrometallurgical fast reactors like the proposed Integral Fast Reactor. (For background on the Integral Fast Reactor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_fast_reactor)
Trying to throw the waste in the sun would be one of the worst possible imaginable ways of dealing with nuclear waste.
Just because someone hasn't done it before doesn't mean someone won't in the future.
You're also ignoring the larger threat to that plutonium; the issue that someone may not want to separate the contaminants. If they're making a dirty bomb, they don't care if it has contaminants or not.
So which is worse for that, having a fuck-ton of seriously nasty stuff sitting around forever, or concentrating the nasty stuff to a much more manageable volume and then fairly quickly shipping it off to be destroyed (in a way that just happens to provide useful energy out of the deal).
It isn't random chance that no one has developed nuclear weapons using nuclear waste from a commercial reactor. It is because it would be far more expensive, a far bigger engineering challenge and far more difficult to hide than any of the other ways to create a nuclear bomb.
>You're also ignoring the larger threat to that plutonium; the issue that someone may not want to separate the contaminants. If they're making a dirty bomb, they don't care if it has contaminants or not.
I didn't talk about dirty bomb because the original statement I was replying too was saying that reprocessing akes plutonium easy to separate out and was a nuclear proliferation risk. It is impolite to criticize me for not bringing up a different issue. In the case of a dirty bomb, it would be many times less dangerous than a nuclear weapon would be and there are many, many potential sources of material for a dirty bomb that would be much easier to obtain and work with than the waste from a commercial nuclear reactor.
As I said before, a very good approach to deal with nuclear waste would be recycle it.
For clarification, it's traditionally been PUREX (chemical separation) that is considered a proliferation risk.
A solar powered mass-driver could sling a steady stream of pellets from Earth orbit into Solar non-orbit using existing technology.
That being said, burying it deep near the the start of a plate subduction zone makes at least as much sense.
What would happen, if you managed to make sure all this stuff got escape velocity, is you would wind-up with a bunch of junk (literally) in an orbit around the sun that would inherently pass through Earth's orbit - as long as it doesn't have solar escape velocity, once a thing is moving on pure momentum, it is in orbit and since the orbit fairly closely an ellipse so the object will return. As the article mentions, probably not when the earth return to the point. But if you keep throwing stuff "out there", the chances of a return are naturally going to increase.
its not a completely rubbish idea.
if you shoot the right way you could end up cancelling enough orbital velocity to intersect the sun before any return to earth.
Throw in reusable rockets and... it's still really dumb. We have reactors that can make use of "spent" fuel - they're just not legal.
Space elevator with a railgun at the top of it maybe makes sense.
Sure, but far less than de-orbiting into the sun. Use the rocket to get to the moon-based rail gun where there is no atmosphere.
Iff one can make a container that can survive the blast/lift-off -- one wouldn't need to worry about the launch vehicle exploding in-atmosphere: there'd be no rocket fuel. Added bonus: find a way to use existing war heads, and combine with nuclear disarmament...
Jupiter would be just as good of a dump or we could just launch on an extra solar trajectory. Hell, we could just put it on a large, non-equatorial orbit around the Earth and it would be effectively gone with the added benefit of being able to recover it should we find a reason to. Space is a big enough place to dump an Earth's worth of trash.
The only problems are cost and the risk of explosion during launch.
Sling yer 'ook and take your spent matchsticks with you!
Besides, nuclear waste is still mostly unburned fuel which could be reprocessed and burned for power in special reactors.
That was my reaction. Future generations will want to use that stuff for fuel. There's no reason to launch it into space.
But at current in the US it is stored in holding pools all over the country. None of those are getting any larger, although they are frequently reworked to allow better use of the volume available.
Very little of it is 'weapons grade' and not many people have access to the equipment to weaponize it into a nuclear weapon. But turning any of it into a dirty bomb is trivial if you can steal it.
There is also the problem of accidents, why by definition are unavoidable.
So, you really do want to get rid of the fuel. Launching it into space is impractical. But it should be stored in a difficult to access facility where the chance of it escaping is minimal. The US federal government collected billions for the construction of such a facility, but it was never completed. So as a result, we have fuel scattered all over the US.
People love to point scream and shout about the dangers of nuclear energy. In conversation I've noticed that people think of nuclear energy as interchangeable with nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are incredibly difficult to build compared to a nuclear fission reactor. The experimental data you need to build one either requires numerous tests or stealing it from a government. Nuclear reactors on the other hand, can be very simple. The simplest reactors are just lumps of radioactive material carefully bonded to thermoelectric devices! The biggest risk from a conventional nuclear reactor is a steam explosion and the dispersal of radioactive material. I reckon the second biggest risk is having tons (quite literally) of spent fuel laying around the country for no good reason. The storage ponds aren't 100%, accidents will happen. For most of the ponds if the cooling systems went offline the water would boil away and then the fuel would self-heat till it started to oxidize. At that point you've basically got hundreds of miniature fallout generators going. You better hope the structure above the pond is airtight because no one is going to be entering it again in this century.
The same group of people that scream and shout about nuclear energy being unsafe seem to actively ignore the dangers of conventional energy generation. For example, steam explosions are still a risk to the employees operating the plant. But I guess their lives don't matter? The pollution from coal isn't exactly helping the environment. Then there is this matter of what to do with all of the coal dust after it is burnt. You know, the same coal ash that over 1 billion gallons recently flooded an area of Tennessee. This contaminated a river, people's land, and destroyed their homes.
Even if we ceased 100% of nuclear energy generation today, we still need Yucca Mountain to deal with the spent fuel we already have. It seems that some groups in the US believe that if they scream loudly enough, the problems of the world will simply go away.
Also there is this issue of the fact that the energy consumers and the taxpayers already paid for the fucking thing but aren't getting any of the benefits. At this point it is basically just a boondoggle.
Given the magnetic field of the Sun, one wonders if you could use a terminator tether  to get the remaining delta-v.
If you look at the Wikipedia page for the MESSENGER mission, you'll see they tackled that problem by using gravity assists from Earth, Venus, and Mercury to reduce MESSENGER's relative velocity with Mercury and allow it to go into orbit. These gravity assists greatly reduced the propulsion requirements.
You just have to change direction, not slow yourself down, as long as your path intersects the sun you're done... we have sent spacecraft to the sun... it's not beyond our technical capabilities.
Basically, it's like flying into a banked curve... as long as you're pointed at the Sun when you exit the curve you're going to hit the sun with out needing to bleed 30km/s.
The fundamental reason why it doesn't work is because it's really expensive get stuff into space...
If it was difficult to hit things with large gravitational forces we wouldn't see very many comets in the night sky...
That's not how it works. You're in the planet's reference frame so you inherit its orbital velocity. Exiting a slingshot in the direction of planet's retrograde (not in the direction to the Sun) you can kill off some velocity, but nowhere near enough to just drop yourself into the sun. You do need to bleed out that 30km/s to actually hit the sun.
The difficulty does not come from the mass of the Sun. It comes from Earth's velocity around it. The waste starts out with that velocity as well. Basically the waste is already in a stable orbit around the sun, and getting it out of that is difficult.
If it has velocity to escape earth's gravity then it does not match earth and will eventually go somewhere else.
If it does not it will fall back.
Only at a Lagrange point will it not deviate from earth.
Given that it is not heading to earth we simply point it at an appropriate trajectory to intercept the moon and/or another planet using that planet to perform aforementioned "banked curve" which directs it to the sun at increased or decreased velocity.
The primary cost of shipping stuff to the sun is escaping earth, once you do that the additional fuel required to reach the sun is nowhere near the amount of fuel required to slow from 30 km/sec to zero.
Basically all we need to do is reach the moon... from there gravity does the work for us with the correct trajectory and a small amount of fuel to correct the trajectory.
The solar wind is blowing past, is it possible to "sail" against that at an angle and - over time - dump orbital velocity and so end up in the sun?
To tie this back to solar sailing, there's obviously no fluid interface in space, so to the extent that solar sailing is possible, solar sailing "upwind" toward the sun is not.
Basically you loop in front of a planet, and then it slingshots you back to the Sun.
You are probably thinking that you can sail upwind on a sail boat but it isn't the same in space. The boat's keel  and general shape keep it going straight which is necessary to sail upwind. That doesn't work in space.
Another factor is that a sail works much like an airplane's wing and isn't really 'pushed' by the wind. This allows the force to be perpendicular to the sail in some cases. To my knowledge (take this part with a grain of salt), solar sails works by receiving momentum as the photons hit. This could only push it away from the sun.
The easiest way to use it might be to apply it in the direction perpendicular to the dumptruck - Sun axis. That way, you don't pick up radial speed, but you do lose orbital speed.
Assuming, that is, that i've understood how a magnetic sail works.
Gravitational assists can help, but they can also help you get other places. Getting to the sun would still be ridiculously hard compared to the alternatives.
Without gravitational assists, you need ~30km/s to drop into the sun, and far less to go other places. With gravitational assists both can be easier, but going to the sun will still be one of the harder places to go.
That aside, if you are going to loop it around Venus, why not just hit Venus? I'm sure Venus wouldn't mind.
Now, the real point seems to be that the Sun's gravity doesn't help you get there — in fact it works against you! You must rely on very precise calculations and instrumentation to target yourself there. So why not dive straight into another planet instead of using it for a gravity assist. That I can understand.
Math time: a Hohmann transfer orbit from Earth to Venus will have 2.7km/sec of excess velocity when it reaches Venus. That means your orbit has a 44000km semi-major axis. With a closest approach of 6100km, that gives you a minimum eccentricity of 1.137; if I'm doing my trigonometry right, the most orbital speed you could lose in a single flyby is 4.2km/sec, or about 11% of your speed relative to the sun.
(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hohmann_transfer_orbit and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbolic_trajectory for details.)
You could do better with multiple carefully-orchestrated flybys, but the point is it's not as simple as just heading for the nearest planet and letting it fling you wherever you want to go.
The fundamental thing you are missing is that to point the rocket directly at the sun required removing all of the orbital velocity. If you were to just point a rocket directly at the sun ignoring its relative motion and burn you would never actually hit the sun. You would just burn forever and never make any progress.
30km/sec is a LOT of velocity change, and you'd need to cancel practically all of it to actually fall into the Sun.
Way harder than getting to any of the planets.
How about exiting planetary orbits retrograde? It seems like larger planets would have escape velocities that are larger than their orbital velocity. Why couldn't our space barge leave Jupiter's orbit on a trajectory that would intersect with the sun?
Yes. This is a bi-elliptic transfer, it's a standard technique, and another thread claims it would save about 40% of the required dV.
> How about exiting planetary orbits retrograde? It seems like larger planets would have escape velocities that are larger than their orbital velocity. Why couldn't our space barge leave Jupiter's orbit on a trajectory that would intersect with the sun?
It could. That's a gravity assist, and it's the only practical way to go just about anywhere with current technology (all our interplanetary probes do that).
(There are arguments against using either with nuclear waste, but I don't think the page is seriously talking about that)
If you're interested in this stuff, definitely play Kerbal Space Program.
Quoting from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_sail, the "total force exerted on an 800 by 800 meter solar sail, for example, is about 5 newtons (1.1 lbf) at Earth's distance from the Sun".
The Orion space capsule is ~25 sq meters. I'll round that up to 100 sq meters (I'm being generous), giving a breaking force of 5/64 N on the waste barge.
The capsule mass is 20 tons. Assuming the waste barge were the same mass (I'm being generous) gives a solar gravitational force in Earth orbit of 120 newtons. This far exceeds the push from solar wind, even with wildly optimistic numbers. (Note: there's some 50,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste in the US.)
So no, you couldn't lose a lot of velocity just braking against the solar wind. Not unless you've also developed effective solar sail technology.
But space flight maneuvers typically use tangential or almost tangential thrust. Slowing down or accelerating the orbital motion will cause the altitude to vary, preserving the orbital energy and angular momentum. Placing a solar sail in a 45 degree angle from the sun will change the orbit slowly but surely, as there will be a little tangential and radial thrust.
I still don't think it's viable for throwing anything into the sun, though.
If you don't, then the time to spiral into the sun is large. Figuring 5/64 N on 20 tons and an orbital velocity of 30km/s gives
t = v / a = 30 km/s / ((5/64) N / 20000 kg)
= 245 years to cut the orbital velocity
t = 245 * (sqrt(2)/2)^2 = 490 years.
That same page points out that sails don't work much inside of 0.25 AU, because the temperature can exceed the material properties of the sail. Though I think if the apogee is inside of 0.20 AU it's good enough.
To make it worse, the solar wind fluctuates, so unless there's active control on the rocket, its orbit will be unpredictable over the centuries. When it's still near Earth orbit, or when it approaches Venus orbit, what are the chances of a gravitational assist leading to an Earth-return?
With 50,000 tons of high-level waste, and 15 tons per rocket => 3,333 rockets in uncertain orbits, the chances become much higher.
this is essentially the brute force approach or the bielliptic transfers mentioned in other comments.
a slingshot changes orbital velocity... thats the whole point. you are right that it is possible to slingshot into an ellipse intersecting the sun... although setting up that manoeuvre itself would be pretty expensive.
tldr; it costs a lot of money to launch mass into space.
Sending 1 pound of water into space costs $50,000. This is more than the price of gold on earth. A space elevator changes the economics dramatically.
(Assuming gravity assist is used)
Compare this to Yucca Mountain's current cost of $9b for ~77k short tons of storage (~$117k/sh tn) and it's still pretty awful.
We do get the ongoing benefit of no upkeep and happy NIMBYs for spacebound waste, but there are always the downsides of making a mess in our space-backyard (what will the aliens think when they come to visit? How embarrassing. Almost as bad, what if it comes back a la Futurama or gets in the way of future endeavors) and losing access to that waste if we figure out a means of making use of waste in the future.
If you start out with a velocity slightly slower than the Earth's, you end up with an elliptical orbit (instead of Earth's almost circular orbit). Barring some sort of drag (to further loose energy), there's no reason it would decay into the sun.
When you throw a ball it flies in a parabola, right? But actually that parabola is just one end of a very long, narrow ellipse, with the Earth's centre as one of the foci. If you could "turn on noclip" and allow the ball to fall through the Earth, it would already be in a stable orbit.
(If you want to get a better intuition for this kind of thing, play Kerbal Space Program)
 And if the Earth were a point mass located at its centre, which it isn't. And ignoring air resistance.
If you have other planets in the system (like our solar system does), things are more complicated. Orbital stability then depends on the arrangement of other planets. You are right in pointing out that the Earth's orbit is (possibly) unstable  over a timescale of billions of years.
 Unstable in the sense that Earth's orbit may become eccentric enough to smash into another planet, get ejected from the solar system, or dive into the sun.
No. Ignoring perturbations from other planets, planetary orbits are stable ellipses with the sun at one focus.
Instead of using chemical rockets for the entire dV how about using a rocket to get into orbit and then using an ion engine driven by solar energy to lose the additional 20km/s? It seems the "fuel" weight required would be significantly less.
To try this in Kerbal space Program: place two craft into the same equatorial orbit, but with one 1/6th of an orbit ahead of the other. Now make them dock.
It's both counter intuitive and easy once you know how.
Once you got there, you're there besides station keeping. So in theory there's no deltaV required? That's what confused me.
Of course moving at 1MPH you'd be expending energy fighting earth's gravity until you got there. But I think that's a separate issue.
Does our solar system is constantly moving? Isn't it stationary with sun at center bending space and time and making planets to revolve around it?
But if you're not orbiting in the first place: no problem.
just try not to hit mercury too much. but even if this happens, not that big of a problem
I have no idea how particular it is to phrase it that way, but it isn't confused.
(what it comes down to is that "an" is an indefinite article and always modifies a noun and km/ss is described by the verb acceleration. Yay English.)
Delta-v is common in orbital mechanics, which is often referred as "an acceleration".
When the Shuttle was first commissioned, my concern at the time was that America's most reliable rocket was the delta, which failed every thirty launches.
When it's nuclear waste, it's not good enough just to have launch insurance.
You were right to be concerned. The shuttle had "a 40% vehicular failure rate and a flight failure rate of 1.5%", killing more people than any other space vehicle. 
You don't measure failure rate by number built divided by number crashed. You measure by how much it's used. The more often something is used the more likely it it that it will fail one of those times.
Sure, you measure by number of launches divided by number crashed - or some similar measure that includes how much utility you get out of it. But the Shuttle does very poorly on any such measure.
Also it's a great target for sabotage for radicals.
Which would put less radioactive material up there than coal power plants already do as a matter of course.
I simply wished to make a point about the generality of parent's point.
And even if it was a flippant question, showing exactly how wrong it is through an in-depth analysis is a great way to refute such positions.
> I'd bet many people think if you can get it out past the moon's orbit it should start to fall into the sun.
This thought is actually true, to a first-order approximation. If you time it right and use gravity slingshot(s) to bleed off velocity and/or adjust the direction towards the sun. The amount of delta-V needed after the moon is basically noise compared to the amount needed just to leave the surface of the earth (which is HUGE, as the author points out).
It's still probably cost prohibitive, but the delta-V required is a lot less than the author thinks.
...variations include "why can't we put garbage in the sun", "why can we put nuclear waste in volcanoes", etc. It's a great question coming from a 6-year-old, but if an adult asks it, he's simply not the kind of person who will spend one second in critical thought, or in researching anything himself. So, yeah, not worth it.
Discussing good explanations for a topic, no matter how common, is not a waste for anyone who is interested, especially any curious people who might currently be lacking the tools to solve it themselves. I don't believe any of us comes fully equipped.
This is a question that I've actually wondered about on and off over the years, and whatever you think of me for not knowing the answer flat-out, or for never having cared deeply enough about the topic to actually research the answer myself, I did very much appreciate an answer that looked at the actual physics involved, and that led to interesting follow-up questions about orbital slingshots and alternate destinations.
One of the college discussions I remember the most fondly was a night spent scribbling on napkins with physics majors over whether you got more wet if you walked more quickly through the rain, and why.
Not all questions have to be earth-shakingly brilliant to yield interesting and intellectually stimulating discussions.