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Space Fission Power Post #9:Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP)

17 Apr 2012, 03:40 UTC
Space Fission Power Post #9:Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP)
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Solid-core nuclear thermal rockets (NTRs) have the potential for specific impulse (ISP) a factor of 2 better than the best chemical propulsion can offer (NTRs can potentially offer up to 1000 seconds ISP). This added efficiency can potentially be used to decrease trip times, carry larger payloads, and/or decrease the number of heavy launches from Earth. A significantly shorter trip time is not practical for near-term Mars missions, so the benefit is generally accepted as additional (~2x) payload delivered per kg launched into Earth orbit. Therefore, the near-term benefit of an NTR is directly correlated with the cost per kg of Earth-to-orbit launches; the higher the cost of launching from Earth, the greater the attractiveness of NTP, and vice-versa.When compared to Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NEP), the performance advantage of an NTR is higher thrust-to-weight, although with a much lower ISP. The technical advantage of an NTR over an NEP system is that the balance of plant is much simpler for an NTR. This feature also presents a major disadvantage, because all of the technical risk and development is within the reactor (i.e. nuclear in nature), as opposed to non-nuclear. Thus, NTR systems cannot utilize the development approach of using a ...

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