Thermal Thorium Rocket (THOR) - A New Concept for a Radioactive Decay Heated Thermal Rocket Engine

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G. Bihari (2020), JBIS, 73, pp.170-179

Refcode: 2020.73.170
Keywords: Nuclear propulsion, Thermal rocket, Radioisotope propulsion, Thorium

Until now, radioactive heat powered thermal rockets have not attracted much interest. The isotopes used in radioactive heat sources either volatilize at the normal working temperatures of rocket engines, or have very low power densities, and thus the concept was condemned as useless several decades ago. Due to their strong gamma radiation, the so called cascade decaying isotopes have not been previously considered, although technological advances have made their use possible. In particular, the Th-228 isotope seems to be best suited for powering a rocket due to its high thermal output and the very high melting point of its oxide. Although such a radioisotope powered thermal rocket has a low thrust, in theory it can operate continuously for several years, allowing it to move large masses in the Solar System. The concept is viable at the level of currently available technology.

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