Enrichment Zoning Options for the Small Nuclear Rocket Engine (SNRE)

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Advancement of U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program requires high performance propulsion systems to support a variety of robotic and crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit. In NASA’s recent Mars Design Reference Architecture (DRA) 5.0 study (NASA-SP-2009-566, July 2009), nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) was again selected over chemical propulsion as the preferred in-space transportation system option 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. An extensive nuclear thermal rocket technology development effort ... continued below

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Schnitzler, Bruce G. & Borowski, Stanley K. July 1, 2010.

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Advancement of U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program requires high performance propulsion systems to support a variety of robotic and crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit. In NASA’s recent Mars Design Reference Architecture (DRA) 5.0 study (NASA-SP-2009-566, July 2009), nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) was again selected over chemical propulsion as the preferred in-space transportation system option 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. An extensive nuclear thermal rocket technology development effort was conducted from 1955-1973 under the Rover/NERVA Program. The Small Nuclear Rocket Engine (SNRE) was the last engine design studied by the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the program. At the time, this engine was a state-of-the-art design incorporating lessons learned from the very successful technology development program. Past activities at the NASA Glenn Research Center have included development of highly detailed MCNP Monte Carlo transport models of the SNRE and other small engine designs. Preliminary core configurations typically employ fuel elements with fixed fuel composition and fissile material enrichment. Uniform fuel loadings result in undesirable radial power and temperature profiles in the engines. Engine performance can be improved by some combination of propellant flow control at the fuel element level and by varying the fuel composition. Enrichment zoning at the fuel element level with lower enrichments in the higher power elements at the core center and on the core periphery is particularly effective. Power flattening by enrichment zoning typically results in more uniform propellant exit temperatures and improved engine performance. For the SNRE, element enrichment zoning provided very flat radial power profiles with 551 of the 564 fuel elements within 1% of the average element power. Results for this and alternate enrichment zoning options for the SNRE are compared.

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  • AIAA Joint Propulsion Conference,Nashville, TN,07/25/2010,07/28/2010

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  • Report No.: INL/CON-10-19398
  • Grant Number: DE-AC07-05ID14517
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 991892
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc1012285

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  • July 1, 2010

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Oct. 14, 2017, 8:36 a.m.

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  • Nov. 7, 2017, 6:11 p.m.

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Schnitzler, Bruce G. & Borowski, Stanley K. Enrichment Zoning Options for the Small Nuclear Rocket Engine (SNRE), article, July 1, 2010; Idaho. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1012285/: accessed September 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.