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Modular Growth NTR Space Transportation System for Future NASA Human Lunar, NEA and Mars Exploration MissionsThe nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) is a proven, high thrust propulsion technology that has twice the specific impulse (I(sub sp) approx.900 s) of today's best chemical rockets. During the Rover and NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Applications) programs, twenty rocket reactors were designed, built and ground tested. These tests demonstrated: (1) a wide range of thrust; (2) high temperature carbide-based nuclear fuel; (3) sustained engine operation; (4) accumulated lifetime; and (5) restart capability - everything required for affordable human missions beyond LEO. In NASA's recent Mars Design Reference Architecture (DRA) 5.0 study, the NTR was selected as the preferred propulsion option because of its proven technology, higher performance, lower IMLEO, versatile vehicle design, and growth potential. Furthermore, the NTR requires no large technology scale-ups since the smallest engine tested during the Rover program - the 25 klb(sub f) "Pewee" engine is sufficient for human Mars missions when used in a clustered engine configuration. The "Copernicus" crewed Mars transfer vehicle developed for DRA 5.0 was an expendable design sized for fast-conjunction, long surface stay Mars missions. It therefore has significant propellant capacity allowing a reusable "1-year" round trip human mission to a large, high energy near Earth asteroid (NEA) like Apophis in 2028. Using a "split mission" approach, Copernicus and its two key elements - a common propulsion stage and integrated "saddle truss" and LH2 drop tank assembly - configured as an Earth Return Vehicle / propellant tanker, can also support a short round trip (approx.18 month) / short orbital stay (60 days) Mars reconnaissance mission in the early 2030's before a landing is attempted. The same short stay orbital mission can be performed with an "all-up" vehicle by adding an "in-line" LH2 tank to Copernicus to supply the extra propellant needed for this higher energy, opposition-class mission. To transition to a reusable Mars architecture, Copernicus' saddle truss / drop tank assembly is replaced by an in-line tank and "star truss" assembly with paired modular drop tanks to further increase the vehicle's propellant capacity. Shorter "1-way" transit time fast-conjunction Mars missions are another possibility using this vehicle configuration but, as with reusability, increased launch mass is required. "Scaled down" versions of Copernicus (sized to a SLS lift capability of approx.70 t - 100 t) can be developed initially allowing reusable lunar cargo delivery and crewed landing missions, easy NEA missions (e.g., 2000 SG344 also in 2028) or an expendable mission to Apophis. Mission scenario descriptions, key vehicle features and operational characteristics are provided along with a brief discussion of NASA's current activities and its "pre-decisional" plans for future NTR development.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
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
April 24, 2015
Publication Date
September 11, 2012
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion And Power
Report/Patent Number
AIAA Paper 2012-5144
Meeting Information
Meeting: AIAA Space 2012 Conference and Exposition
Location: Pasadena, CA
Country: United States
Start Date: September 11, 2012
End Date: September 13, 2012
Sponsors: American Inst. of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 279585.04.01.22
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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