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Title: DUAL-MODE PROPULSION SYSTEM ENABLING CUBESAT EXPLORATION OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Final Report

It is apparent the cost of planetary exploration is rising as mission budgets declining. Currently small scientific beds geared to performing limited tasks are being developed and launched into low earth orbit (LEO) in the form of small-scale satellite units, i.e., CubeSats. These micro- and nano-satellites are gaining popularity among the university and science communities due to their relatively low cost and design flexibility. To date these small units have been limited to performing tasks in LEO utilizing solar-based power. If a reasonable propulsion system could be developed, these CubeSat platforms could perform exploration of various extra-terrestrial bodies within the solar system engaging a broader range of researchers. Additionally, being mindful of mass, smaller cheaper launch vehicles (~1,000 kgs to LEO) can be targeted. This, in effect, allows for beneficial explora-tion to be conducted within limited budgets. Researchers at the Center for Space Nuclear Re-search (CSNR) are proposing a low mass, radioisotope-based, dual-mode propulsion system capable of extending the exploration realm of these CubeSats out of LEO. The proposed radioisotope-based system would leverage the high specific energies [J/kg] associated with radioisotope materials and enhance their inherent low specific powers [W/g]. This is accomplished by accumulating thermal energy from nuclear decaymore » within a central core over time. This allows for significant amounts of power to be transferred to a flowing gas over short periods of time. In the proposed configuration the stored energy can be utilized in two ways: (1) with direct propellant injection to the core, the energy can be converted into thrust through the use of a converging-diverging nozzle and (2) by flowing a working fluid through the core and subsequent Brayton engine, energy within the core can be converted to electrical energy. The first scenario achieves moderate ranges of thrust, but at a higher Isp than traditional chemical-based systems. The second scenario allows for the production of electrical power, which is then available for electric-based propulsion. Additionally, once at location the production of electrical power can be dedicated to the payload’s communication system for data transfer. Ultimately, the proposed dual-mode propulsion platform capitalizes on the benefits of two types of propulsion methods – the thrust of thermal propulsion ideal for quick orbital maneuvers and the specific impulse of electric propulsion ideal for efficient inter-planetary travel. Previous versions of this RTR-based concept have been studied for various applications [NETS 1-3]. The current version of this concept is being matured through a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I grant, awarded for FY 2014. In this study the RTR concept is being developed to deliver a 6U CubeSat payload to the orbit of the Saturnian moon - Enceladus. Additionally, this study will develop an entire mission architecture for Enceladus targeting a total allowable launch mass of 1,000 kg.« less
Authors:
; ; ;
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
1134415
Report Number(s):
INL/EXT-14-32104
DOE Contract Number:
DE-AC07-05ID14517
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Idaho National Laboratory (INL)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
33 ADVANCED PROPULSION SYSTEMS NESDPS Office of Nuclear Energy Space and Defense Power Systems; CERMET Encapsulation; Pulsed Power Production; Radioisotope Power System; Radioisotope Thermal Rocket; Thermal Capacitor