The Thermal Nuclear Engine That Could Get Us to Mars in Just 3 Months

The Thermal Nuclear Engine That Could Get Us to Mars in Just 3 Months

It’s twice as efficient as a chemical rocket.

BY CAROLINE DELBERTNOV 9, 2020nuclear thermal propulsion engineUSNC-TECH

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) has designed a new thermal nuclear engine it says could carry astronauts to Mars in just three months—and back to Earth in the same amount of time. By using ceramic microcapsules of high assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel, USNC’s thermal nuclear engine could cut the trip in half even from optimistic estimates.

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“The problem is to produce a nuclear reactor that is light enough and safe enough for use outside the Earth’s atmosphere—especially if the spacecraft is carrying a crew,” New Atlas explains.

Thermal nuclear for propulsion is an old idea. While weapons are thermal, other applications have lingered in the experimental stage and then been discarded, but they’ve still been studied off and on for decades. These designs use the astonishing heat generated by a nuclear reaction to push a rocket at speeds approaching the Star Trek realm compared to what we use today. And they contrast with traditional chemical rockets, where chemical propellants like liquid oxygen are used to make something more like a supersized fossil fuel combustion engine.This content is imported from {embed-name}. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

USNC’s technology hits just months after Elon Musk suggested that a nuclear engine could be key to getting astronauts to Mars. For Musk, the concern was for astronaut health and safety: the longer the trip to Mars, the longer astronauts are exposed to extraordinary cosmic radiation.YOU’LL LOVE THIS STUFFThis Fusion Drive Could Boost Interstellar TravelTiny Nuclear Reactors Could Help Us Get to MarsThe EmDrive Just Won’t DieADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

The Department of Energy has found that HALEU fuel is, relative to the higher risk of handling nuclear materials at all, less dangerous than it could be. Cosmic radiation is probably far worse, and negotiating around it has been a huge barrier to any hypothetical Mars travel.

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