Artist’s impression of the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) spacecraft arriving in Mars orbit.
ADRIAN MANN, BISBOS.COM

SPACEFLIGHT

Nuclear Thermal Rocket: A Misunderstood Beast

JAN 31, 2013 01:18 PM ET // BY STEVE SUMMERFORD, ICARUS INTERSTELLAR

Icarus Interstellar is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to accomplishing interstellar flight by 2100. The Center for Space Nuclear Research (CSNR) is a focus for research and development of advanced space nuclear systems, including power and propulsion systems, and radioisotope power generators. Icarus Interstellar have recently partnered with CSNR to bring you a series of articles aimed at exploring the potential uses of nuclear power for space propulsion and power generation for space missions.

Recently, an international marine life census concluded that over 200,000 organisms call Earth’s oceans their home. Remarkably, a handful of those life forms happily exist at depths and temperatures where life was once thought to certainly perish.

Yet despite the fact that people have been intimately engaged with the seas for thousands of years, we still know very little about many of these creatures, discovering new ones on a routine basis. If even the darkest, coldest, and seemingly oxygen-depleted regions of our own world are capable of harboring life, perhaps life may be flourishing elsewhere in the solar system; for example, within the oceans of the Saturnian moon Titan.

Only recently have we begun to explore the surfaces of distant worlds, and as the 21st century unfolds, ambitious plans abound for undertaking such future ventures.

However, many of these plans are reliant upon technology that is realistically quite some time away from implementation, or even purely theoretical at this juncture.

Propulsion systems employing fusion power or matter/anti-matter collisions are all promising conduits for efficient and timely inter-solar and deep-space exploration, but are thus far undeveloped or unfeasible at the present time. Even the promise of ion propulsion, having successfully been demonstrated in a handful of robotic spacecraft (such as NASA’s Dawn and the Japanese Hayabusa mission), does not offer an immediately viable, large-scale solution.

Yet as we aim beyond sending humans to Earth’s moon, the risk for exploratory stagnation is high as traditional chemically-fueled rockets (utilized in every manned space vehicle from the Saturn V to the recently retired Space Shuttle) are unsuitable for long-distance, heavy payload missions.

Read more: Nuclear Thermal Rocket: A Misunderstood Beast : Discovery News.

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