Small Reactor Designs Suitable for Direct Nuclear Thermal Propulsion [electronic resource] : Interim Report
- Washington, D.C. : United States. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy ; Oak Ridge, Tenn. : distributed by the Office of Scientific and Technical Information, U.S. Dept. of Energy, 2012
- Idaho National Laboratory. Researcher
- United States. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. Sponsor
- United States. Dept. of Energy. Office of Scientific and Technical Information. Distributor
- Bruce G. Schnitzler Author
- Advancement of U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests requires high performance propulsion systems to support missions beyond low Earth orbit. A robust space exploration program will include robotic outer planet and crewed missions to a variety of destinations including the moon, near Earth objects, and eventually Mars. Past studies, in particular those in support of both the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI), have shown nuclear thermal propulsion systems provide superior performance for high mass high propulsive delta-V missions. In NASA's recent Mars Design Reference Architecture (DRA) 5.0 study, nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) was again selected over chemical propulsion as the preferred in-space transportation system option for the human exploration of Mars because of its high thrust and high specific impulse (≈900 s) capability, increased tolerance to payload mass growth and architecture changes, and lower total initial mass in low Earth orbit. The recently announced national space policy2 supports the development and use of space nuclear power systems where such systems safely enable or significantly enhance space exploration or operational capabilities. An extensive nuclear thermal rocket technology development effort was conducted under the Rover/NERVA, GE-710 and ANL nuclear rocket programs (1955-1973). Both graphite and refractory metal alloy fuel types were pursued. The primary and significantly larger Rover/NERVA program focused on graphite type fuels. Research, development, and testing of high temperature graphite fuels was conducted. Reactors and engines employing these fuels were designed, built, and ground tested. The GE-710 and ANL programs focused on an alternative ceramic-metallic 'cermet' fuel type consisting of UO2 (or UN) fuel embedded in a refractory metal matrix such as tungsten. The General Electric program examined closed loop concepts for space or terrestrial applications as well as open loop systems for direct nuclear thermal propulsion. Although a number of fast spectrum reactor and engine designs suitable for direct nuclear thermal propulsion were proposed and designed, none were built. This report summarizes status results of evaluations of small nuclear reactor designs suitable for direct nuclear thermal propulsion.
- Publication date
- Published through SciTech Connect.
- Bruce G. Schnitzler.
- Funding Information