• About
  • Advanced Search
  • Browse Proceedings
  • Access Policy
  • Sponsor
  • Contact
  • A nuclear electric propulsion system for manned interplanetary missions

    Paper ID



    • S. Gronich
    • R.W. Hallet
    • P.W. Miller


    Nuclear research and engineering, Missiles and space systems division, Douglas Aircraft company






    The authors have investigated power plant design from the standpoint of completing an Earth orbit to Martian orbit to Earth return manned space flight. This paper presents a parametric study of power level and operation time related to a near optimum propulsion system for the above mission with the probable state-of-the-art technology existing in the near future. A preliminary design of a fast spectrum reactor core is presented. Thermionic units with tungsten cathodes and anodes are used as an integral part of the fuel element to generate electric power directly. Uranium oxide and uranium carbide fuels are compared on the basis of thermal stress and material migration criteria. Insulation requirements to isolate each fuel element and prevent stray currents within the core are presented. The radiator is a fin and tube design which is segmented to allow meteoroid punctures in portions of the radiator and still permit propulsion system operation. A retractable radiator concept is shown. Thus the radiator can be protected during the times that the engine is inoperative. The interplay between engine operation time, and propulsion system reliability, component test programs, engine performance and shielding concepts are examined as it effects overall mission success and economics. Thispaper concludes that considering the higher propulsion system performance possible and overall mission reliability achieveable, that a nuclear electric system with a power level greater than 20 MW of useful electric power appears to have desireable characteristics for the manned Martian round trip.