An Overview of Facilities and Capabilities to Support the Development of Nuclear Thermal Propulsion

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J. Werner et al. (2010), JBIS, 63, pp.323-329

Refcode: 2010.63.323
Keywords: Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP), Fuel fabrication, nuclear testing, test facilities

The future of American space exploration depends on the ability to rapidly and economically access locations of interest throughout the solar system. There is a large body of work (both in the U.S. and the Soviet Union) that show that Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) is the most technically mature, advanced propulsion system that can enable this rapid and economical access by its ability to provide a step increase above what is feasible using a traditional chemical rocket system. For an NTP system to be deployed, the earlier measurements and recent predictions of the performance of the fuel and the reactor system need to be confirmed experimentally prior to launch. Major fuel and reactor system issues to be addressed include fuel performance at temperature, hydrogen compatibility, fission product retention, and restart capability. The prime issue to be addressed for reactor system performance testing involves finding an affordable and environmentally acceptable method to test a range of engine sizes using a combination of nuclear and non-nuclear test facilities. This paper provides an assessment of some of the capabilities and facilities that are available or will be needed to develop and test the nuclear fuel and reactor components. It will also address briefly options to take advantage of the great improvement in computation/simulation and materials processing capabilities that would contribute to making the development of an NTP system more affordable.

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