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A One-year, Short-Stay Crewed Mars Mission Using Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Electric Propulsion (BNTEP) - A Preliminary AssessmentA crewed mission to Mars poses a significant challenge in dealing with the physiological issues that arise with the crew being exposed to a near zero-gravity environment as well as significant solar and galactic radiation for such a long duration. While long surface stay missions exceeding 500 days are the ultimate goal for human Mars exploration, short round trip, short surface stay missions could be an important intermediate step that would allow NASA to demonstrate technology as well as study the physiological effects on the crew. However, for a 1-year round trip mission, the outbound and inbound hyperbolic velocity at Earth and Mars can be very large resulting in a significant propellant requirement for a high thrust system like Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP). Similarly, a low thrust Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NEP) system requires high electrical power levels (10 megawatts electric (MWe) or more), plus advanced power conversion technology to achieve the lower specific mass values needed for such a mission. A Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Electric Propulsion (BNTEP) system is examined here that uses three high thrust Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket (BNTR) engines allowing short departure and capture maneuvers. The engines also generate electrical power that drives a low thrust Electric Propulsion (EP) system used for efficient interplanetary transit. This combined system can help reduce the total launch mass, system and operational requirements that would otherwise be required for equivalent NEP or Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) mission. The BNTEP system is a hybrid propulsion concept where the BNTR reactors operate in two separate modes. During high-thrust mode operation, each BNTR provides 10's of kilo-Newtons of thrust at reasonably high specific impulse (Isp) of 900 seconds for impulsive transplanetary injection and orbital insertion maneuvers. When in power generation/EP mode, the BNTR reactors are coupled to a Brayton power conversion system allowing each reactor to generate 100's of kWe of electrical power to a very high Isp (3000 s) EP thruster system for sustained vehicle acceleration and deceleration in heliocentric space.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Burke, Laura M.
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
Borowski, Stanley K.
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
McCurdy, David R.
(Vantage Partners, LLC Brook Park, OH, United States)
Packard, Thomas W.
(Vantage Partners, LLC Brook Park, OH, United States)
Date Acquired
July 18, 2014
Publication Date
July 15, 2013
Subject Category
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Meeting: International Energy Conversion Engineering Conference
Location: San Jose, CA
Country: United States
Start Date: July 15, 2013
End Date: July 17, 2013
Sponsors: American Inst. of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Society for Electrical Engineers, Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc.
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 279585.04.01.22
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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