Joint Radioisotope Electric Propulsion Studies -- Neptune System Explorer

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M. O. Khan et al. (2010), JBIS, 63, pp.454-460

Refcode: 2010.63.454
Keywords: Radioisotope Power Systems, Electric Propulsion, Radioisotope Electric Propulsion, Joint Radioisotope Electric

1. The Neptune System Explorer (NSE) mission concept study assessed opportunities to conduct Cassini-like science at Neptune with a radioisotope electric propulsion (REP) based spacecraft. REP is based on powering an electric propulsion (EP) engine with a radioisotope power source (RPS). The NSE study was commissioned under the Joint Radioisotope Electric Propulsion Studies (JREPS) project, which sought to determine the technical feasibility of flagship class REP applications. Within JREPS, special emphasis was given toward identifying tall technology tent poles, as well as recommending any new RPS technology developments that would be required for complicated REP missions. Based on the goals of JREPS, multiple RPS (e.g. thermoelectric and Stirling based RPS) and EP (e.g. Hall and ion engines) technology combinations were traded during the NSE study to determine the most favorable REP design architecture. Among the findings from the study was the need for >400We RPS systems, which was driven by EP operating powers and the requirement for a long-lived mission in the deep solar system. Additionally multiple development and implementation risks were identified for the NSE concept, as well as REP missions in general. Among the strengths of the NSE mission would be the benefits associated with RPS and EP use, such as long-term power (~2-3kW) at Neptune and flexible trajectory options for achieving orbit or tours of the Neptune system. Although there are still multiple issues to mitigate, the NSE concept demonstrated distinct advantages associated with using REP for deep space flagship-class missions.

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