RADIOISOTOPE-DRIVEN DUAL-MODE PROPULSION SYSTEM FOR CUBESAT-SCALE PAYLOADS TO THE OUTER PLANETS Page: 2 of 3
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RADIOISOTOPE-DRIVEN DUAL-MODE PROPULSION SYSTEM FOR CUBESAT-SCALE PAYLOADS
TO THE OUTER PLANETS. N. D. Jerred', T. M. Hower, S. D. Howe' and A. Rajguru ,Center for Space Nuc-
lear Research (firstname.lastname@example.org) , 2University of Southern California.
Introduction: It is apparent the cost of planetary
exploration is rising as mission budgets declining. Cur-
rently small scientific beds geared to performing li-
mited tasks are being developed and launched into low
earth orbit (LEO) in the form of small-scale satellite
units, i.e., CubeSats. These micro- and nano-satellites
are gaining popularity among the university and
science communities due to their relatively low cost
and design flexibility. To date these small units have
been limited to performing tasks in LEO utilizing solar-
based power. If a reasonable propulsion system could
be developed, these CubeSat platforms could perform
exploration of various extra-terrestrial bodies within
the solar system engaging a broader range of research-
ers. Additionally, being mindful of mass, smaller
cheaper launch vehicles (~1,000 kgs to LEO) can be
targeted. This, in effect, allows for beneficial explora-
tion to be conducted within limited budgets.
Researchers at the Center for Space Nuclear Re-
search (CSNR) are proposing a low mass, radioiso-
tope-based, dual-mode propulsion system capable of
extending the exploration realm of these CubeSats out
Approach: The proposed radioisotope-based sys-
tem would leverage the high specific energies [J/kg]
associated with radioisotope materials and enhance
their inherent low specific powers [W/g]. This is ac-
complished by accumulating thermal energy from nuc-
lear decay within a central core over time. This allows
for significant amounts of power to be transferred to a
flowing gas over short periods of time. In the proposed
configuration the stored energy can be utilized in two
ways (see Figure 1): (1) with direct propellant injection
to the core, the energy can be converted into thrust
through the use of a converging-diverging nozzle and
(2) by flowing a working fluid through the core and
subsequent Brayton engine, energy within the core can
be converted to electrical energy. The first scenario
achieves moderate ranges of thrust, but at a higher Isp
than traditional chemical-based systems. The second
scenario allows for the production of electrical power,
which is then available for electric-based propulsion.
Additionally, once at location the production of elec-
trical power can be dedicated to the payload's commu-
nication system for data transfer. Ultimately, the pro-
posed dual-mode propulsion platform capitalizes on
the benefits of two types of propulsion methods - the
thrust of thermal propulsion ideal for quick orbital ma-
neuvers and the specific impulse of electric propulsion
ideal for efficient inter-planetary travel.
Figure 1: diagram showing fluid flow for both the ther-
mal (left) and electric (right) modes of the system
Previous versions of this RTR-based concept have
been studied for various applications [1-3]. The current
version of this concept is being matured through a
NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I
grant, awarded for FY 2014. An artistic rendering of
the current form of the concept for this study can be
found in Figure 2.
Figure 2: conceptual artistic rendering ofpropulsion
system (left) and main engine (right)
In this study the RTR concept is being developed to
deliver a 6U CubeSat payload to the orbit of the Satur-
nian moon - Enceladus. Additionally, this study will
develop an entire mission architecture for Enceladus
targeting a total allowable launch mass of 1,000 kg.
Concept: At the center of the propulsion system is
the radioisotope fuel. In this study 238PuO2 will be used
to provide the decay energy. For safety and retention,
the fuel will be encapsulated within a tungsten-based
matrix [1,4]. The resulting fuel rods will be integrated
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Jerred, N. D.; Howe, T. M.; Howe, S. D. & Rajguru, A. RADIOISOTOPE-DRIVEN DUAL-MODE PROPULSION SYSTEM FOR CUBESAT-SCALE PAYLOADS TO THE OUTER PLANETS, article, February 1, 2014; [Idaho Falls, Idaho]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc871763/m1/2/: accessed October 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.