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NASA Funds Designs for a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Rocket ( 172

"Dangerous radiation. Overstuffed pantries. Cabin fever. NASA could sidestep many of the impediments to a Mars mission if they could just get there faster," writes, which reports NASA is now exploring an alternative to chemical rockets. In August, NASA announced an $18.8-million-dollar contract with nuclear company BWXT to design fuel and a reactor suitable for nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP), a rocket technology that could jumpstart a new era of space exploration. "The strengths with NTP are the ability to do the very fast round trip [to Mars], the ability to abort even if you're 2 to 3 months into the missions, the overall architectural robustness, and also the growth potential to even more advanced systems," Michael Houts, principal investigator for the NTP project at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, told NTP rockets would pull all that off by offering about twice the bang for the buck that chemical rockets do... "Nuclear thermal propulsion can enable you to get to Mars faster, on the order of twice as fast," said Vishal Patel, a researcher involved in subcontract work for BWXT at the Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. in Los Alamos, New Mexico. "We're looking at nice 3- to 4-month transit times."
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NASA Funds Designs for a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Rocket

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  • It's all Chode up ins! Now gimme my 1½ inches of reinforced carbon-carbon and a railgun and we'll duke it out like real space lozenges.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    For a split moment, I thought I’d just read: “Dangerous radiation. Overstuffed panties. Cabin fever.”

  • That much faster with this technology.

    Is there any limit to the desire of man to clutter the landscape of other lands....

  • by eSyr ( 3472173 )
    So, can I send this well-proven design []?
  • cosmic highways with dangerous radiation. Have we not learnt anything from using fossil fuels on earth?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      .....we need to destroy every star we come across, starting with the Sun. That way we can prevent more radiation from polluting the Universe.

    • Space is already a radiation blasted wasteland. Plus the hydrogen fuel of these designs arn't inside the reactor long enough to become radioactive (Nuclear Thermal Rockets are very different from Fission Fragment Rockets). While the NERVA didn't completely solve the problem of fuel erosion (meaning it's exhaust was somewhat radioactive), they were close to solving the problem when the program was cancelled in 1972, and we should be able to something better with 45years of progress in material sciences
    • Uh... this is hardly going to add anything to the already existing mountains of dangerous radiation in interplanetary space. The point is to get from Earth to Mars *faster* so that astronauts don't have to spend so much time in the radiation bath outside the magnetosphere.
    • Space is big. Really big. You may think its a long way to the chemist, but that's nothing to space.....Douglas Adams

    • While we're at it, why don't you work on ways to eradicate the biggest source of dangerous radiation in our solar system - the sun.

      Uneducated environmentalists and like-minded Hollywood script writers have got you convinced that zero radiation is the natural state of things, and any radiation is aberrant. It's actually the other way around - radiation is everywhere. Even your own body is radioactive. The only reason the sun's radiation doesn't kill everything on Earth is because of its magnetic field,
      • Even with that shielding effect of atmosphere and magnetic field, the Sun still kills a million people a year with radiation. Dangerous thing, that Sun.

  • It's about time NASA started making Buck Rogers type equipment. This going up and down and round and round was starting to get boring.
  • Can we focus on the rockets we already have and simply get resources into mars orbit?

    Seriously we already have the tech for supplies and it doesn't matter if the trip take 2 years. We need to get around 30 supply depots and dropships into geo orbit around mars. Stuff like simply fuel and water. Raw materials to construct 3 shelters that can last 100 years and support 200-500 people each. Large construction and mining vehicles. Point is to bootstrap mining and manufacturing on mars. It's easier to get mo

    • you're overestimating how much mass we can move to Mars by conventional rockets. We can't send the ISS to Mars, our biggest rocket can send 8 tons to Mars transfer orbit. We're going to send up 57 of those to push the ISS to Mars? thousands of them for your 100 year colony's supplies.

      No, we need powered fusion rockets.

    • Until we build cheap SHLV, such as SpaceX's BFR/BFS or Blue Origin's New Armstrong, it makes little sense to send supplies to Mars. What does makes sense is to send robotics to the moon via FH, to explore both lave tubes and craters. From there, we can establish where to build a base, so that we can fly more FHs, followed by BFRs and NAs.
  • I'm wondering if part of the impulse for doing this is that it would be nearly inconceivable for Space X to get the permitting to do this, while NASA being the government can get the government's permission to do this. Is this a push back against commercial space exploration?
    • There's no 'push back against commercial space exploration' from NASA, they're the ones mandating programs like 'Commercial Resupply Services' and 'Commercial Crew Program' .
      SpaceX officials thank NASA at every opportunity for the funding and support without which they might not have survived the early years.

      If anything, more research like this is possible because commercial companies can provide the more routine services at lower costs, allowing NASA to concentrate on the science.

  • Just curious what sort of pollution or fallout we can expect if the rocket carrying this into space (or the rocket itself, if it's going up itself) has a catastrophic incident? Is the nuclear fuel in one of these things going to make a big mess as it spreads through the atmosphere and falls into the ocean?

  • I stand to be corrected, but could a nuclear reactor provide huge amounts of electrical energy which combined with a massive ion drive create an interesting and efficient propulsion system? Very lay perspective here. Spitballing
    • So, basically, nuclear to provide the energy, ion drive to provide the thrust
    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Yes, but if you want that much electricity, you have to have huge, heavy radiators. Nuclear thermal avoids that because the heat goes out the nozzle. The downside is that it's not as high specific impulse as lower thrust propulsion methods that deal with magnetically confined plasmas and electric power sources.

    • Nope. The Nuke has to provide electricity, which would be done via steam. This would be efficient on the moon or mars, because you can dump heat easily. BUT, in space, all you can do is radiate it away. Problem is, the weight of the reactor, the massive amounts of radiator, the ION engines, etc, needed would be VERY heavy. Basically, it is more efficient to run chemicals than to run that combination.

      Interestingly, with some of our most efficient solar panels, it IS possible to provide the electricity ne
  • In his "What's New" column for the week of December 20, 1996, PhD. physicist Bob Parks writes, "But an NRC study released this week also looks at the long-term exposure to cosmic radiation. It estimates that during a round-trip to Mars, the nucleus of every cell in the body would be traversed by a primary high-Z, high-energy particle. Nobody is certain about what that would do, but it's not likely to be good for you."

    If you reduce the round-trip time for a Mars journey by one-half, does that mean only ha
  • Just huck all the mass into the converter and fire away.
  • Will the rocket have a DVD player for the kids? Otherwise, it is 2-3 months of, "Are we there yet?"
  • Though I will say they've got their NERVA....

    Should we assume that, at the very least, they're going to start with that, rather than from scratch?

  • Mars is not massive enough to hold an atmosphere we could breathe and live in without external support. You may as well colonize the moon. Also, it's closer, conveniently. Mars is an uninteresting and uninhabitable ball of rock.

    THAT SAID, if you MUST go, why not just give every member of the crew a medically induced coma, a catheter, external electronic stimulation to keep muscles from atrophy, IV nutrition and hydration, etc.

    The crew and colonists would launch to space, be hooked up to machines and

    • The only way you get to where "Martian" humans can live, and walk about and do stuff on the surface of Mars without spacesuits, is to blanket the entire PLANET in an envelop of gas DENSE enough to maintain roughly one standard atmosphere's pressure under Mars' puny gravity. Such an atmosphere would squeeze any diatomic oxygen molecules UP away from the surface, to boil away into space, or maybe form a layer of the atmosphere which MIGHT be breathable, if not for the fact that it's dozens of miles away from

    • by whitroth ( 9367 )

      There are a significant number of people who consider your statement that a) Mars is uninteresting and b) there's no reason to go there on par with "why should you go anywhere that you don't have cellphone coverage?"

      If this is news for nerds, than you *certainly6* don't fit here. The rest of us want to see the universe in person.

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