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2001: A Space Odyssey Revisited: The Feasibility of 24 Hour Commuter Flights to the Moon Using NTR Propulsion with LUNOX AfterburnersThe prospects for 24 hour commuter flights to the Moon, similar to that portrayed in 2001: A Space Odyssey but on a more Spartan scale, are examined using two near term, high leverage technologies: liquid oxygen (LOX)-augmented nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) propulsion and lunar-derived oxygen (LUNOX) production. Iron-rich volcanic glass, or orange soil, discovered during the Apollo 17 mission to Taurus-Littrow, has produced a 4 percent oxygen yield in recent NASA experiments using hydrogen reduction. LUNOX development and utilization would eliminate the need to transport oxygen supplies from Earth and is expected to dramatically reduce the size, cost and complexity of space transportation systems. The LOX-augmented NTR concept (LANTR) exploits the high performance capability of the conventional liquid hydrogen (LH2)-cooled NTR and the mission leverage provided by LUNOX in a unique way. LANTR utilizes the large divergent section of its nozzle as an afterburner into which oxygen is injected and supersonically combusted with nuclear preheated hydrogen emerging from the engine's choked sonic throat, essentially scramjet propulsion in reverse. By varying the oxygen-to-hydrogen mixture ratio, the LANTR engine can operate over a wide range of thrust and specific impulse (Isp) values while the reactor core power level remains relatively constant. The thrust augmentation feature of LANTR means that big engine performance can be obtained using smaller, more affordable, easier to test NTR engines. The use of high-density LOX in place of low density LH2 also reduces hydrogen mass and tank volume resulting in smaller space vehicles. An implementation strategy and evolutionary lunar mission architecture is outlined which requires only Shuttle C or in-line Shuttle-derived launch vehicles, and utilizes conventional NTR-powered lunar transfer vehicles (LTVs), operating in an expendable mode initially, to maximize delivered surface payload on each mission. The increased payload is dedicated to installing modular LUNOX production units with the intent of supplying LUNOX to lunar landing vehicles (LLVs) and then LTVs at the earliest possible opportunity. Once LUNOX becomes available in low lunar orbit (LLO), monopropellant NTRs would be outfitted with an oxygen propellant module, feed system and afterburner nozzle for bipropellant operation. Transition to a reusable mission architecture now occurs with smaller, LANTR-powered LTVs delivering ~400% more payload on each piloted round trip mission than earlier expendable all LH2 NTR systems. As initial lunar outposts grow to eventual lunar settlements and LUNOX production capacity increases, the LANTR concept can enable a rapid commuter shuttle capable of 24 hour one way trips to and from the Moon. A vast deposit of iron-rich volcanic glass beads identified at just one candidate site located at the southeastern edge of Mare Serenitatis could supply sufficient LUNOX to support daily commuter flights to the Moon for the next 9000 years!
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Glenn Research Center
Document Type
Technical Memorandum (TM)
Borowski, Stanley
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
Dudzinski, Leonard A.
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
Date Acquired
September 7, 2013
Publication Date
June 1, 2003
Subject Category
Space Transportation And Safety
Report/Patent Number
NAS 1.15:208830/REV2
AIAA Paper 97-2956-Rev-2
Meeting Information
Meeting: 33rd AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference
Location: Seattle, WA
Country: United States
Start Date: July 6, 1997
End Date: July 9, 1997
Sponsors: American Society for Electrical Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Inst. of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc.
Funding Number(s)
WORK_UNIT: WU 953-20-0C
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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