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Solid-State Thermionic Nuclear Power for Megawatt Propulsion, Planetary Surface and Commercial Power ProjectThermionic (TI) power conversion is a promising technology first investigated for power conversion in the 1960's, and of renewed interest due to modern advances in nanotechnology, MEMS, materials and manufacturing. Benefits include high conversion efficiency (20%), static operation with no moving parts and potential for high reliability, greatly reduced plant complexity, and the potential for reduced development costs. Thermionic emission, credited to Edison in 1880, forms the basis of vacuum tubes and much of 20th century electronics. Heat can be converted into electricity when electrons emitted from a hot surface are collected across a small gap. For example, two "small" (6 kWe) Thermionic Space Reactors were flown by the USSR in 1987-88 for ocean radar reconnaissance. Higher powered Nuclear-Thermionic power systems driving Electric Propulsion (Q-thruster, VASIMR, etc.) may offer the breakthrough necessary for human Mars missions of < 1 yr round trip. Power generation on Earth could benefit from simpler, moe economical nuclear plants, and "topping" of more fuel and emission efficient fossil-fuel plants.
Document ID
Document Type
George, Jeffrey
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Date Acquired
May 1, 2014
Publication Date
April 4, 2014
Subject Category
Energy Production And Conversion
Spacecraft Propulsion And Power
Report/Patent Number
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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