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Title: Small Fast Spectrum Reactor Designs Suitable for Direct Nuclear Thermal Propulsion

Abstract

Advancement of U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program requires high performance propulsion systems to support a variety of robotic and crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit. Past studies, in particular those in support of both the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and Space Exploration Initiative (SEI), have shown nuclear thermal propulsion systems provide superior performance for high mass high propulsive delta-V missions. The recent NASA Design Reference Architecture (DRA) 5.0 Study re-examined mission, payload, and transportation system requirements for a human Mars landing mission in the post-2030 timeframe. Nuclear thermal propulsion was again identified as the preferred in-space transportation system. A common nuclear thermal propulsion stage with three 25,000-lbf thrust engines was used for all primary mission maneuvers. Moderately lower thrust engines may also have important roles. In particular, lower thrust engine designs demonstrating the critical technologies that are directly extensible to other thrust levels are attractive from a ground testing perspective. An extensive nuclear thermal rocket technology development effort was conducted from 1955-1973 under the Rover/NERVA Program. Both graphite and refractory metal alloy fuel types were pursued. Reactors and engines employing graphite based fuels were designed, built and ground tested. A number of fastmore » spectrum reactor and engine designs employing refractory metal alloy fuel types were proposed and designed, but none were built. The Small Nuclear Rocket Engine (SNRE) was the last engine design studied by the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the program. At the time, this engine was a state-of-the-art graphite based fuel design incorporating lessons learned from the very successful technology development program. The SNRE was a nominal 16,000-lbf thrust engine originally intended for unmanned applications with relatively short engine operations and the engine and stage design were constrained to fit within the payload volume of the then planned space shuttle. The SNRE core design utilized hexagonal fuel elements and hexagonal structural support elements. The total number of elements can be varied to achieve engine designs of higher or lower thrust levels. Some variation in the ratio of fuel elements to structural elements is also possible. Options for SNRE-based engine designs in the 25,000-lbf thrust range were described in a recent (2010) Joint Propulsion Conference paper. The reported designs met or exceeded the performance characteristics baselined in the DRA 5.0 Study. Lower thrust SNRE-based designs were also described in a recent (2011) Joint Propulsion Conference paper. Recent activities have included parallel evaluation and design efforts on fast spectrum engines employing refractory metal alloy fuels. These efforts include evaluation of both heritage designs from the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and General Electric Company GE-710 Programs as well as more recent designs. Results are presented for a number of not-yet optimized fast spectrum engine options.« less

Authors:
;
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Idaho National Laboratory (INL)
Sponsoring Org.:
DOE - NE
OSTI Identifier:
1056018
Report Number(s):
INL/CON-12-24660
DOE Contract Number:  
DE-AC07-05ID14517
Resource Type:
Conference
Resource Relation:
Conference: 2012 Joint Propulsion Conference,Atlanta, GA,07/30/2012,08/01/2012
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
33 ADVANCED PROPULSION SYSTEMS; NESDPS Office of Nuclear Energy Space and Defense Power Systems; nuclear; propulsion; space; thermal

Citation Formats

Bruce G. Schnitzler, and Stanley K. Borowski. Small Fast Spectrum Reactor Designs Suitable for Direct Nuclear Thermal Propulsion. United States: N. p., 2012. Web.
Bruce G. Schnitzler, & Stanley K. Borowski. Small Fast Spectrum Reactor Designs Suitable for Direct Nuclear Thermal Propulsion. United States.
Bruce G. Schnitzler, and Stanley K. Borowski. Sun . "Small Fast Spectrum Reactor Designs Suitable for Direct Nuclear Thermal Propulsion". United States. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/1056018.
@article{osti_1056018,
title = {Small Fast Spectrum Reactor Designs Suitable for Direct Nuclear Thermal Propulsion},
author = {Bruce G. Schnitzler and Stanley K. Borowski},
abstractNote = {Advancement of U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program requires high performance propulsion systems to support a variety of robotic and crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit. Past studies, in particular those in support of both the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and Space Exploration Initiative (SEI), have shown nuclear thermal propulsion systems provide superior performance for high mass high propulsive delta-V missions. The recent NASA Design Reference Architecture (DRA) 5.0 Study re-examined mission, payload, and transportation system requirements for a human Mars landing mission in the post-2030 timeframe. Nuclear thermal propulsion was again identified as the preferred in-space transportation system. A common nuclear thermal propulsion stage with three 25,000-lbf thrust engines was used for all primary mission maneuvers. Moderately lower thrust engines may also have important roles. In particular, lower thrust engine designs demonstrating the critical technologies that are directly extensible to other thrust levels are attractive from a ground testing perspective. An extensive nuclear thermal rocket technology development effort was conducted from 1955-1973 under the Rover/NERVA Program. Both graphite and refractory metal alloy fuel types were pursued. Reactors and engines employing graphite based fuels were designed, built and ground tested. A number of fast spectrum reactor and engine designs employing refractory metal alloy fuel types were proposed and designed, but none were built. The Small Nuclear Rocket Engine (SNRE) was the last engine design studied by the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the program. At the time, this engine was a state-of-the-art graphite based fuel design incorporating lessons learned from the very successful technology development program. The SNRE was a nominal 16,000-lbf thrust engine originally intended for unmanned applications with relatively short engine operations and the engine and stage design were constrained to fit within the payload volume of the then planned space shuttle. The SNRE core design utilized hexagonal fuel elements and hexagonal structural support elements. The total number of elements can be varied to achieve engine designs of higher or lower thrust levels. Some variation in the ratio of fuel elements to structural elements is also possible. Options for SNRE-based engine designs in the 25,000-lbf thrust range were described in a recent (2010) Joint Propulsion Conference paper. The reported designs met or exceeded the performance characteristics baselined in the DRA 5.0 Study. Lower thrust SNRE-based designs were also described in a recent (2011) Joint Propulsion Conference paper. Recent activities have included parallel evaluation and design efforts on fast spectrum engines employing refractory metal alloy fuels. These efforts include evaluation of both heritage designs from the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and General Electric Company GE-710 Programs as well as more recent designs. Results are presented for a number of not-yet optimized fast spectrum engine options.},
doi = {},
journal = {},
number = ,
volume = ,
place = {United States},
year = {2012},
month = {7}
}

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