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Opening the Solar System: An Advanced Nuclear Spacecraft for Human ExplorationHuman exploration of the solar system is limited by our technology, not our imagination. We dream of a time when we can freely travel among the planets and truly become a spacefaring people. However, the current state of our technology limits our options for architecting missions to other planets. Instead of sailing the seas of space in the way that we cruise the seas of Earth, our limited propulsion technology requires us to depart Earth on a giant cluster of gas tanks and return in a lifeboat. This inefficient approach to exploration is evident in many of today's leading mission plans for human flights to Mars, asteroids, and other destinations. The cost and complexity of this approach to mission architecting makes it extremely difficult to realize our dreams of exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This does not need to be the case. Researchers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) have been investigating the feasibility of a new take on nuclear propulsion with the performance to enable a paradigm shift in human space exploration. During the fall of 2013, engineers at MSFC's Advanced Concepts Office developed a spacecraft concept (pictured below) around this new propulsion technology and redefined the human Mars mission to show its full potential. This spacecraft, which can be launched with a fleet of soon-to-be available SLS launch vehicles, is fueled primarily with hydrogen, and is fully reusable with no staging required. The reusable nature of this design enables a host of alternative mission architectures that more closely resemble an ocean voyage than our current piecemeal approach to exploration.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Marshall Space Flight Center
Document Type
Conference Paper
Werka, R. O.
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Percy, T. K.
(Science Applications International Corp. Huntsville, AL, United States)
Date Acquired
July 7, 2014
Publication Date
February 24, 2014
Subject Category
Spacecraft Design, Testing And Performance
Lunar And Planetary Science And Exploration
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Meeting: Nuclear and Emerging Technologies in Space 2014
Location: Stennis Space Center, MS
Country: United States
Start Date: February 24, 2014
End Date: February 26, 2014
Sponsors: Universities Space Research Association, American Nuclear Society
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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