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PWSP2 - Gizmodo - Going to MARS in NASA's new Nuclear Thermal Rocket (NTR). It about time, baby!

5 Apr 2013, 04:43 UTC
PWSP2 -  Gizmodo - Going to MARS in NASA's new Nuclear Thermal Rocket (NTR). It about time, baby!
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

The first people to step on to the surface of Mars won’t arrive aboard the chemical-fueled rockets that delivered Apollo 11 to the moon — they simply don’t provide enough thrust to get to the Red Planet before exposing their crews to months of dangerous space radiation. Instead, NASA is turning to long-ignored nuclear-thermal rocket technology to deliver the first Martian explorers into history.

How NASA Built a Better Rocket

Nuclear-thermal rockets are by no means a new technology. In fact, researchers began discussing the prospect of utilising nuclear power to propel rockets and aircraft back in 1942 after Enrico Firmi’s successful fission reactor tests. By 1944 teams at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory and Los Alamos National Lab developed an early nuclear-thermal design that used a fission reactor to super-heat hydrogen gas which would then escape through a small nozzle to generate thrust. Since nuclear fuel is about 107 times more energy dense than their chemical counterparts and similarly powerful rockets would weigh only about half as much, nuclear-thermal rockets (NTRs) can carry load to fuel ratios from 1:1 to as high as 7:1 especially when used as the upper stage. This design piqued the interest of the ...

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