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  • Advanced propulsion systems for space flight

    Paper ID



    • E. Stuhlinger


    NASA, George C. Marshall Space Flight Center






    The propulsion system of any vehicle must meet the conditions of being controllable and reliable. Propulsion systems for space vehicles must fulfil the additional conditions of being light and powerful. Chemical rocket engines are meeting these requirements fairly well for space vehicles in near-Earth space. For flights over lunar and planetary distances, propulsion systems producing more total impulse per unit mass of propellant and unit mass of vehicle are desirable. Among many different non-chemical space propulsion systems which have been considered during the past, only two have reached a level of significant technical development. Both are very likely to obtain flight status during the forthcoming decade. These systems are the nuclear fission rocket, and the electric rocket. A third system, the nuclear fusion rocket, may come into being after the problem of controlling the fusion reaction has been solved. Other space propulsion systems, such as the solar sail or the photon rocket, are not serious contenders for space vehicle propulsion at the present time, either because their propulsive capabilities are too low, or because their technologies are entirely unknown.