The Mars Hopper: Development, Simulation and Experimental Validation of a Radioisotope Exploration Probe for the Martian Surface
Description: An advanced exploration probe has been proposed by the Center for Space Nuclear Research (CSNR) to acquire detailed data from the Martian surface and subsurface, ‘hop’ large distances to multiple sites in short periods of time and perform this task repeatedly. Although several similar flying vehicles have been proposed utilizing various power sources and complex designs, e.g. solar-electric and chemical-based, the CSNR’s Mars Hopper is based on a radioisotope thermal rocket (RTR) concept. The Mars Hopper’s design relies on the high specific energies [J/kg] of radioisotopes and enhances their low specific power [W/kg] through the use of a thermal capacitance material to store thermal energy over time. During operation, the RTR transfers the stored thermal energy to a flowing gas, which is then expanded through a converging-diverging nozzle, producing thrust. Between flights, the platform will have ample time to perform in-depth science at each location while the propellant tanks and thermal capacitor recharge. Recharging the propellant tanks is accomplished by sublimation freezing of the ambient CO2 atmosphere with a cryocooler, followed by heating and pressurization to yield a liquid storage state. The proposed Mars Hopper will undergo a ballistic flight, consuming the propellant in both ascent and descent, and by using multiple hopper platforms, information can be gathered on a global scale, enabling better resource resolution and providing valuable information for a possible Mars sample-return mission. The CSNR, collaborating with the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and three universities (University of Idaho, Utah State University and Oregon State University), has identified key components and sub-systems necessary for the proposed hopper. Current project activities include the development of a lab-scale prototypic Mars Hopper and test facility, along with computational fluid dynamics (CFD)/thermal-hydraulic models to yield a better understanding of the heat transfer process and complex nature of turbulent CO2 flow. Laboratory experimentation ...
Date: September 1, 2012
Creator: Jerred, Nathan D.; Cooley, Spencer; O'Brien, Robert C.; Howe, Steven D. & O'Brien, James E.
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