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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 yesterday. 

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 plasma rockets 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 announced 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?
By gamerk2 on 10/29/2009 3:04:05 PM , Rating: 2
acceleration = final velocity - initial velocity / time

Vf = 335 million MPH = 156464000 M/S
Vi = 0
A= 5mph = 2.2352 M/S^2

So we get:

2.2352 Meters/Second^2 = 156464000 Meters/Second - 0 Meters/Second / x seconds
2.2352 Meters/Second^2 = 156464000 Meters/Second / x seconds
2.2352 Meters/Second^2 * x seconds = 156464000 Meters/Second
x = 156464000 Meters/Second / 2.2352 Meters/Second^2
x = 70,000,000 Seconds

70,000,000 seconds = 810.1851851852 days = ~2.22 years

Happy now?


RE: Ion engines?
By wessty1984 on 10/29/2009 5:22:52 PM , Rating: 2
Your equations are right but you didn't convert the acceleration right. 5 mi/hr^2 is .000620889 meters/second, you have to square the number of seconds per hour (3600^2) in the conversion so the units match.


RE: Ion engines?
By wessty1984 on 10/29/2009 5:24:15 PM , Rating: 2
correction .000620889 meters/second^2


RE: Ion engines?
By steve628 on 10/29/2009 6:32:57 PM , Rating: 2
The question: "how long will it take to reach half the speed of light at 5mph per hour (disregarding relativity)" is a question a child could answer.

I have pity for those who think they know so much, yet still fail to complete a rudimentary calculation.

Half the speed of light is about 335,000,000 mph.

If it requires an hour to gain 5 mph, then how many hours does it take to collect 335,000,000 mph?

335,000,000 mph divided by 5 mph per hour = 67,000,000 hours.

That's about 7,600 years.


RE: Ion engines?
By JediJeb on 10/30/2009 12:00:08 PM , Rating: 2
Basic Algebra beats Multivariable, gotta love it. :)

Finally someone other than me that does math the short way.


RE: Ion engines?
By Redwin on 11/23/2009 11:17:14 AM , Rating: 2
I think you must be intentionally trolling, but let me give you the benefit of the doubt and correct you:

"5 mph" is a constant velocity. You are treating it as an acceleration of the form 5 miles per hour per hour (5 mi/hr^2).

These are not the same units.


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