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Exploration Capabilities

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (prior to FY15: Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion Stage)

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

A key goal of the project is to address critical, long-term nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) technology challenges and issues through development, analysis, and testing of NTP hardware so NTP systems can be an affordable and viable in-space propulsion candidate for future HEO missions. An important NTP technology challenge is advancing the maturity of the NTP fuel by confirming that NTP fuels from the previous NERVA/Rover period can still be made and can perform as demonstrated in the past. First generation NTP systems and fuel technologies that are consistent with and can meet requirements of the initial crewed Mars Surface Missions will be the primary focus for NTP hardware development/testing for the project. AES completed this project at the end of FY15 (September 30, 2015).  In FY16, STMD will initiate a new nuclear thermal propulsion activity within their Game Changing Development Program with a different focus. (Prior to FY15, the project name was: Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion Stage Project)

Key NTP project objectives are to conduct preliminary design, fabrication, and test of representative fuel samples and partial length fuel elements for previous NERVA/Rover fuels types to verify that these fuel forms can still be made and perform as demonstrated in the past; further define preliminary NTP system concept designs that can meet the requirements for Crewed Mars Surface Missions requirements and serve as a basis for the candidate NTP fuel elements/types for both a smaller demonstration sized engine (~16 klbf) and a larger Mars Crewed Vehicle sized engine (25 klbf); and using the results of the above efforts as well as other heritage NTP data, develop fuel downselection criteria and recommendations to support an NTP fuel type leader selection. This NTP fuel leader selection, graphite composite fuel, was made in March 2015. (Prior to FY15, the project name was: Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion Stage Project)  

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