Russia is Developing Nuclear Fission Spaceship to Reach the Red Planet
October 29, 2009 9:30 AM
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Russian is hoping its new nuclear rocket will help it reach the Red Planet, Mars, as well as set up a base on the moon. The rocket will likely be a Nuclear Gas Core Reactor (NGCR) fission rocket design.
(Source: RIA Novosti ?????? ?????)
Russia developed an early nuclear fission engine, the RD-0410 NTP Engine, back in the 1960s.
(Source: Dietrich Haeseler)
While the U.S. dreams of plasma, Russia looks to nuclear
With the Space Shuttles on their way to retirement the U.S. is pouring millions into developing the
next generation of manned spacecraft
, a return to rocket-mounted capsule designs and departure from the space-plane design of the shuttle. The Ares I-X underwent its
first test flight
In the near-term rockets like the Ares and its foreign competitors will likely retain a chemical booster to provide the thrust and impulse needed to propel the rocket into space. The critical question, though is what to use once in space to provide the sustained power needed to reach distant targets like the Moon or Mars.
Some are advocating traditional chemical rockets to due to the job. While expensive and potentially dangerous, they have the advantage of being a thoroughly proven technology. NASA is also eying non-nuclear
as a possible solution.
Now, news has broke that Russia may turn to a nuclear fission engine for its own Mars or Moon mission. Anatoly Perminov, Russian rocket scientist, mechanical engineer, and acting director of the Russian Federal Space Agency
at a meeting of the commission on the modernization of the Russian economy that the design would be finalized by 2012 and that full development would take approximately 9 years.
The project will cost approximately 17 billion rubles (over $580 million), a lot of money for the cash-strapped Russian space program. Still, another Russian space official, Anatoly Koroteyev, president of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics and head of the Keldysh research center, says that the new propulsion system is critical to a successful Mars mission as it will provide the high degree of energy-mass efficiency needed for a fast and cost-effective trip.
He says that Russia's current technology cannot accomplish its goals -- to put a space base on the Moon and send a manned mission to the Red Planet, Mars.
While there are many nuclear rocket designs, including antimatter catalyzed nuclear pulse propulsion, Bussard ramjets, fission-fragmentation, and nuclear electric, the new engine is likely a
gas core reactor rocket
. Russia has been working on this type of rocket since 1954. It claims that the U.S., despite heavy university research into nuclear designs, has only completed 1 use of a fission reactor in space, and that it has completed 30 such uses.
The Nuclear Gas Core Reactor (NGCR) uses highly enriched uranium (U-235 or U-233) injected into a gas jet at pressures of up to 1000 atm and temperatures of up to 70000 K. Hydrogen is used as a propellant as it provides a high specific impulse. The fissile core is a cylindrical design and energy is delivered to the hydrogen propellant via alkali metal vapors like Li. Due to the distance between the walls and nozzle and the fission reactions in the core, the rocket can achieve higher temperature fission and thus greater specific impulse than solid-core designs.
A key challenge will be developing the theory to full predict the behavior of and contain the fission plasma via a magnetic field. Russia has already done a good deal of work into this topic, but many questions remain unaswered, particularly how the field will react to instability from gravity and inertial forces.
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RE: Ion engines?
10/29/2009 10:16:52 AM
Plasma ion engines like VASIMR have replaced standard ion engines as the most promising future space propulsion technology. The standard ion designs have a good specific impulse (efficiency) but are too weak for manned missions. Current plasma ion test platforms are showing far higher specific impulse and also enough thrust to get a crew to mars in a reasonable time frame. There'd almost certainly be a nuclear reactor on board to power the engine.
Anyway, all this stuff is still deep in development. It'd take a lot more testing before we entrust it with the lives of our astronauts.
RE: Ion engines?
10/29/2009 12:10:00 PM
After the successful 200kW test of the VASIMR ion engine, many reports suggest that a spacecraft outfitted with such an engine could make a one way trip to mars in a mere 39 days:
Even taking into consideration that they would have to begin their deceleration halfway to the planet, this is pretty impressive. Also, one would presume that it would be cheaper/easier to launch since they wouldn't have to lift as much chemical fuel out of the gravity well. The real issue is generating enough electricity to fully power such an engine, solar wont quite cut it yet. That Russian nuclear engine project is starting to sound pretty good right about now.
Also AdAstra is currently projecting they will have a very similar engine docked with the ISS by 2013(2014 in some reports) to provide some of the reboost capabilities currently using chemical propellants that must be ferried up on a regular basis.
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