As NASA pursues innovative, cost-effective alternatives to conventional propulsion technologies to forge new paths into the solar system, researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, say nuclear thermal propulsion technologies are more promising than ever, and have contracted with BWXT Nuclear Energy, Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia, to further advance and refine those concepts.
Part of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, the Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) project could indeed significantly change space travel, largely due to its ability to accelerate a large amount of propellant out of the back of a rocket at very high speeds, resulting in a highly efficient, high-thrust engine. In comparison, a nuclear thermal rocket has double the propulsion efficiency of the Space Shuttle main engine, one of the hardest-working standard chemical engines of the past 40 years. That capability makes nuclear thermal propulsion ideal for delivering large, automated payloads to distant worlds.
“As we push out into the solar system, nuclear propulsion may offer the only truly viable technology option to extend human reach to the surface of Mars and to worlds beyond,” said Sonny Mitchell, Nuclear Thermal Propulsion project manager at Marshall. “We’re excited to be working on technologies that could open up deep space for human exploration.”
An NTP system can cut the voyage time to Mars from six months to four and safely deliver human explorers by reducing their exposure to radiation. That also could reduce the vehicle mass, enabling deep space missions to haul more payload.
Given its experience in developing and delivering nuclear fuels for the U.S. Navy, BWXT will aid in the design and testing of a promising, low-enriched uranium-based nuclear thermal engine concept and “Cermet” — ceramic metallic — fuel element technology. During this three-year, $18.8-million contract, the company will manufacture and test prototype fuel elements and also help NASA properly address and resolve nuclear licensing and regulatory requirements. BWXT will aid NASA in refining the feasibility and affordability of developing a nuclear thermal propulsion engine, delivering the technical and programmatic data needed to determine how to implement this promising technology in years to come.
The company’s new contract is expected to run through Sept. 30, 2019.
Nuclear-powered rocket concepts are not new. The United States conducted studies and significant ground tests from 1955 to 1972 to determine the viability of such systems, but ceased testing when plans for a crewed Mars mission were deferred. Since then, nuclear thermal propulsion has been revisited several times in conceptual mission studies and technology feasibility projects. Thanks to renewed interest in exploring the Red Planet in recent decades, NASA has begun new studies of nuclear thermal propulsion, recognizing its potential value for exploration of Mars and beyond.
In late September, the Nuclear Thermal Propulsion project will determine the feasibility of using low-enriched uranium fuel. The project then will spend a year testing and refining its ability to manufacture the necessary Cermet fuel elements. Testing of full-length fuel rods will be conducted using a unique Marshall test facility.
The Latest on: Nuclear thermal propulsion
Apollo Fusion raises $10 million to ramp production of its satellite thrusters
on July 11, 2018 at 8:15 am
Longmier, who holds advanced degrees in Physics, Nuclear Engineering, and Plasma Physics, said, "Our team brought over 100 years of electric propulsion experience to ... magnetic circuit, thermal radi... […]
Steam Turbine Market to Undertake Strapping Growth During 2017-2027
on July 10, 2018 at 9:16 am
Also, nuclear integration ... applications in marine propulsion and power generation, impulse steam technology is estimated to be growing at significant CAGR. In 2013, Siemens Energy (Germany) develop... […]
Company to develop nuclear engine for Mars ship in Alabama
on June 21, 2018 at 9:00 pm
A nuclear technology company says it will start developing products in Alabama which include a propulsion system that could send ... with NASA to create conceptual designs for a nuclear thermal reacto... […]
NASA Wants Nuclear Engines to Fly Humans to Mars
on February 21, 2018 at 12:30 pm
NASA studied "nuclear thermal propulsion systems" during the Cold War, but shelved the idea because it wasn't necessary. Nuclear-powered spacecraft could send humans to Mars faster and allow them to a... […]
NASA is bringing back Cold War-era atomic rockets to get to Mars
on February 15, 2018 at 10:55 pm
Two other technologies being considered are solar-electric and chemical propulsion. Nuclear thermal rockets were first researched and tested by NASA between 1955 and 1972, before Congress canceled the ... […]
NASA could use nuclear rockets to power manned Mars mission
on February 15, 2018 at 5:36 am
... with BWXT Nuclear Energy Inc for an $18.8 million contract to design a reactor and develop fuel for use in a nuclear-thermal propulsion engine for deep-space travel. While that small start is a lo... […]
NASA funds research into nuclear thermal rockets
on November 13, 2017 at 4:00 am
The reactor will be used in a nuclear thermal propulsion rocket engine, which NASA hopes will reduce travel times when sending humans to Mars. Lower travel times will reduce an astronaut’s exposure to ... […]
NASA Reignites Program for Nuclear Thermal Rockets
on August 14, 2017 at 6:54 am
As part of NASA's Game Changing Development Program, the Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) project would see the creation of high-efficiency spacecraft that would be capable of using less fuel to deliv... […]
BWXT Awarded $18.8 Million Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Reactor Design Contract by NASA
on August 2, 2017 at 5:00 pm
BWX Technologies, Inc. (BWXT) announced today that its BWXT Nuclear Energy, Inc. subsidiary has been awarded an $18.8 million contract from NASA to initiate conceptual designs for a nuclear thermal pr... […]
BRIEF-BWXT wins $18.8 mln nuclear thermal propulsion reactor design contract by NASA
on August 2, 2017 at 5:00 pm
* BWX Technologies - contract to initiate conceptual designs for nuclear thermal propulsion reactor in support of possible future manned mission to mars Source text for Eikon: Further company coverag... […]
via Google News and Bing News