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How do nuclear thermal propulsion rockets work?

How do nuclear thermal propulsion rocket work

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) engineering systems work by forcing a liquid propellant, generally hydrogen, into and through a reactor core. Uranium atoms separate within the reactor core and generate heat through a process called fission. Fission heats the propellant and transforms the propellant into a gas, this gas is expanded through a nozzle, thus generating thrust.

NTP rockets have undergone intense research and have been scientifically proven to be twice as efficient than chemical rockets and more energy-dense. This performance has been measured via specific impulse, meaning the amount of thrust possible from an amount of propellant. The impulse of a chemical rocket that combusts liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen is 450 seconds. Meaning the chemical rocket has half the propellant efficiency as of the nuclear-powered rockets – being 900 seconds impulse.

When was the first NTP research executed?

NTP rocket technology is not new, NTP was first researched by NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy in the 1960s. This research was part of the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application program. During this program, NASA scientists developed numerous nuclear rockets. The program was ceased in 1972, but NASA still continued research to improve the nuclear rocket designs, fuels, materials, and now current NTP rockets designs use these blueprints.

Why are the nuclear-powered rockets more efficient and more energy-dense?

The reason why nuclear-powered rockets are more efficient is that the gases are lighter and easier to accelerate. Chemical rockets, however, produce water vapor, which is a much heavier byproduct than hydrogen – which is used in NTP systems. This ultimately leads to NTP systems having far greater efficiency than chemical rocket systems and allows the rocket to target much Farrer away locations in deep space.

Deep space missions utilizing NTP rocket systems

NTP rocket systems provide space companies with the opportunity to explore deep space. Travel times to Mars will be cut by at least 25 percent, and with the focus on NTP, researchers have suggested this time allowance can be cut even more in the future. NTP also provides the flexibility for astronauts facing problems in space to change the planned course, and to return to Earth if needed.

Will NTP rockets be launched on Earth?

NTP rockets will not be launched on Earth, instead, they will be transported to space via chemical rockets, once in space they will be launched. This is because the thrust of NTP rockets will not achieve enough power to leave the Earth’s environment. Also, utilizing nuclear in any way, posses a threat to Earth and its inhabitants.

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Rocket (NTP) | NASA

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