Nuclear Propulsion – Rockets and Aircraft


Many Nuclear Propulsion concepts have been proposed. These include nuclear thermal, nuclear electric and nuclear pulse engines.

Marsship - Nuclear Propulsion

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.

Nuclear Electric

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.

Nuclear Rockets

At present Nuclear powered rockets are not used to launch vehicles from Earth.

Rocket Engines

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.

Space Travel

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.

Nuclear Missiles

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 ( The title seems very long!)

Nuclear Propulsion Links

Nuclear Propulsion Space Clubs


Picture from Nuclear Rockets Page

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