Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies (USNC – Tech), based in Seattle, has designed a concept for a new Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) engine and has delivered it to NASA. This engine is safer and more reliable than the previous NTP concepts, paired with greater efficiency than a chemical rocket. This new and improved design could aid in realizing the goal of using nuclear propulsion to bring about a change in deep space travel. This in turn reduces Earth to Mars travel time to three months.
Rocket engineers continue to seek ways to build more efficient and powerful engines using variants of nuclear energy because chemical rockets are near their theoretical limits and electric space propulsion systems have a low thrust.
Properly designed nuclear rockets can have several times the efficiency of the chemical variety. A nuclear reactor needs to be produced that is light and safe enough for use outside the Earth’s atmosphere, especially if the crew is in the spacecraft.
According to principal engineer at USNC – Tech, Dr. Michael Eades, the new design engine is more reliable than the previous NTP concepts and can produce twice the specific impulse of a chemical rocket. A rocket’s efficiency is measured by specific impulses.
The Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM) fuel is more rugged than conventional nuclear fuel used and also operates at high temperatures. Additionally, such fuel can be produced with the current supply chains and manufacturing plants.
The new concept is aimed at a commercial market as well as with NASA and the US Department of Defense, allowing for more ambitious private missions in as little as three months.
“Key to USNC-Tech’s design is a conscious overlap between terrestrial and space reactor technologies,” says Dr. Paolo Venneri, CEO of USNC-Tech. “This allows us to leverage the advancements in nuclear technology and infrastructure from terrestrial systems and apply them to our space reactors.”