Many Nuclear Propulsion concepts have been proposed. These include nuclear thermal, nuclear electric and nuclear pulse engines.
Nuclear Thermal Rocket
Nuclear Thermal Rocket creates thrust by heating and expanding a fusion fuel and a working fluid such as hydrogen in a nuclear reactor. The engine has twice the efficiency of the best chemical engines and also have higher higher specific impulse (ISP) than current technology chemical rockets.
VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket) uses an electromagnetic thruster.
Nuclear Electric Pulse Engines
Uses nuclear explosions for thrust.
Project Orion was a study of a spacecraft that was to use nuclear pulse propulsion – a series of explosions of atomic bombs behind the spacecraft as propulsion.
At present Nuclear powered rockets are not used to launch vehicles from Earth.
Many nuclear rocket engine design use heat liquid hydrogen propellant.
How does a Nuclear Engine Work?
Nuclear rockets are rocket engines that use a nuclear fission reactor to heat propellant.
A nuclear rocket engine uses a nuclear reactor to heat liquid hydrogen to very high temperatures turning it into ionized hydrogen gas or plasma. This plasma then passes through a rocket nozzle to create thrust.
Nuclear rocket engines generate higher thrust and are more than twice as efficient as conventional chemical rocket engines.
Nuclear thermal propulsion is the most effective way of sending humans to Mars.
Nuclear propulsion weighs almost half as much as a chemical rocket without reducing thrust. This allows larger payloads of cargo to be carried on spacecraft and have the ability travel far faster to their destination.
Russia (2016) has used over 30 fission reactors in space. USA has flown only one – the SNAP-10A (System for Nuclear Auxiliary Power) in 1965.
Nasa started working with the US Atomic Energy Commission in 1959 on NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application) in developing nuclear rocket engines, however the program officially ended in 1973. Engineers produced several prototypes, the most advanced of which was known as a Pewee engine. None of the engines were ever used for flight.
NASA’s Project Prometheus was to develop nuclear-powered systems for long-duration space missions. It started in 2003 and was cancelled in 2005. First planned mission was Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter.
Nasa has plans to use nuclear thermal propulsion on a mission to Mars in the future.
Russian nuclear engine project was launched in 2010 and originally overseen by the space agency RosCosmos. In 2012 an engineering design was created. Rosatom (2016?) has responsibility of nuclear project. A prototype nuclear drive could start testing by 2018.
Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion
There have been proposals in the past.
At present they do not use nuclear propulsion.
Did you know?
Using Nuclear Propulsion would allow travel to Mars in just six weeks and provide capability for manoeuvring and acceleration.
This section contains Nuclear Propulsion related links for Rockets and Aircraft.
If you would like to comment on nuclear propulsion, then visit the Space Projects Yahoo Club – Twitter.
21st Century and Beyond – Future Space Rockets and Breakthrough Propulsion, NASA Research, Near-term Plans, and Far-out Science Fiction Concepts from Space Launch Initiative Shuttle Replacement to Nuclear Rockets, Hypersonics, Elevators, Sails, Ion Electric, Antimatter, and Fusion
by World Spaceflight News from Amazon.com ( The title seems very long!)
Nuclear Propulsion Links
- FAS’s Nuclear Thermal Propulsion:
- Innovative Nuclear Space Power and Propulsion Institute:
- Gasdynamic Mirror Fusion Propulsion Experiment:
- Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology: United States Department of Energy
- Aircraft Nuclear Proplusion:
- MarsAcademy.com’s Nuclear Proplusion:
- Space Exploration Technology-Nuclear Proplusion:
- Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Program:
- Nuclear Propulsion Engineering Technical Forum:
- Nuclear Rockets Page:
- Islandone.org’s Nuclear Pulse Engines: (New)
- Mwades Project Orion: (New)
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Faster than Light: 3 Part Article (New)
- Nuclear Propulsion vs Chemical Rockets: (New)
- Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation: Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation, Russia’s nuclear agency.
- Engine List – Atomic Rockets – Project Rho:
Nuclear Propulsion Space Clubs
- Nuclear Powered Space Travel: Projects Rover, NERVA, Orion and others.
- Projects Orion: Nuclear Pulse Propulsion – Space Travel – Space Exploration – Space Settlement
Picture from Nuclear Rockets Page
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