Innovative Approaches to Development and Ground Testing of Advanced Bimodal Space Power and Propulsion Systems Page: 2 of 11
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INNOVATIVE APPROACHES TO DEVELOPMENT AND GROUND TESTING OF ADVANCED BIMODAL
SPACE POWER AND PROPULSION SYSTEMS
T. J. Hill, PE, Consulting Engineer, C. Noble, Project Manager ,and J. Martinell, Project Manager
Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Idaho Falls, ID
Dr. S. K. Borowski, Member AIAA
NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, OH
The last major development effort for nuclear
power and propulsion systems ended in 1993.
Currently, there is not an initiative at either the
National Aeronautical and Space Administration
(NASA) or the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
that requires the development of new nuclear
power and propulsion systems. Studies continue to
show nuclear technology as a strong technical
candidate to lead the way toward human
exploration of adjacent planets or provide power for
deep space missions, particularly a 15,000 lbf
bimodal nuclear system with 115 kW power
capability. The development of nuclear technology
for space applications would require technology
development in some areas and a major flight
qualification program. The last major ground test
facility considered for nuclear propulsion
qualification was the U.S. Air Force/DOE Space
Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Project. Seven years
have passed since that effort, and the questions
remain the same, how to qualify nuclear power and
propulsion systems for future space flight. It can be
reasonably assumed that much of the nuclear
testing required to qualify a nuclear system for
space application will be performed at DOE
facilities as demonstrated by the Nuclear Rocket
Engine Reactor Experiment (NERVA) and Space
Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (SNTP) programs.
The nuclear infrastructure to support testing in this
country is aging and getting smaller, though
facilities still exist to support many of the
technology development needs. By renewing
efforts, an innovative approach to qualifying these
systems through the use of existing facilities either
in the U.S. (DOE's Advance Test Reactor, High
Flux Irradiation Facility and the Contained Test
Facility) or overseas should be possible
This paper is declared a work of the U.S.
Government and is not subject to copyright
protection in the United States.
Fifty years ago, the concept of routinely
placing humans and equipment into earth orbit
and performing a host of now routine functions
such as frequent piloted missions, International
Space Station, Global Positioning System, and
modern communications, was for dreamers.
Today, NASA considers new science missions
that will push the space frontier back even further.
Next generation missions, such as Mars
Outpost/Lunar Applications, Human Exploration
Missions, Deep Space, Outer Planet Science and
Deep Space "Interstellar Precursor", must meet
the challenges of exploring and operating in even
more distant locations and in more hostile
environments. For example, a piloted Mars
mission would require movement of equipment,
personnel, and supplies from the surface of the
Earth, through low Earth orbit, and on to Mars.
Space transfer vehicles traveling between Earth
orbit and Mars orbit require safe, reliable, high
performance propulsion systems in order to
reduce the trip times as much as possible.
The combined requirements of high
performance and low-mass necessitate
consideration of advanced propulsion concepts
such as nuclear propulsion. Nuclear propulsion
offers the potential for significantly greater
performance and reduced vehicle mass compared
to the current propulsion systems. Although it will
require additional engineering effort to update
existing propulsion concepts with recent
technological advances and include power
generation capability, the resulting propulsion
system will greatly enhance the nation's capability
to travel to Mars and beyond.
Nuclear reactor technology is mature and
there has been a wide variety of nuclear reactors
designed over the past 50 years for many
terrestrial applications and for some applications in
space. The design and construction of a typical
nuclear plant is a complex and time consuming
process, but the basic theory on which it operates
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
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Hill, Thomas Johnathan; Noble, Cheryl Ann; Noble, C.; Martinell, John Stephen & Borowski, S. Innovative Approaches to Development and Ground Testing of Advanced Bimodal Space Power and Propulsion Systems, article, July 1, 2000; [Idaho Falls, Idaho]. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc883208/m1/2/: accessed April 23, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.