Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies of Seattle (USNC-Tech) has developed the concept of a new engine with nuclear thermal motion (NTP) that can revolutionize the solar system. The use of such an engine will make it possible, in particular, to halve the flight time between Earth and Mars, reducing it from the current 6 months to 3.
According to Dr. Michael Eads, Chief Engineer of USNC-Tech, the new conceptual engine is more reliable than previous NTP developments and can produce twice as much specific impulse as the best chemical rockets used in space today.
According to NewAtlas, the USNC-Tech engine uses low-enriched uranium, which is derived from recycled nuclear fuel and enriched by 5-20%. Once enriched, it is encapsulated in particles coated with zirconium carbide (ZrC). They serve as fuel.
The company claims that this resulting fuel is much more stable than conventional nuclear fuel and can operate at high temperatures. This provides a safer reactor design, high thrust and specific impulse, which previously could only be obtained with highly enriched uranium. In addition, such fuel can be produced through existing supply chains and manufacturing plants.
USNC-Tech believes that the new nuclear engine concept will dramatically reduce the time required to travel to deep space, in particular, it will take up to three months to travel between Earth and Mars, which in turn will halve the crew’s exposure to hard cosmic radiation.
However, the concept, even well calculated and based on a number of proven technical solutions in ground nuclear reactors, is far from being a prototype. It will take more than one year to build and test it, if the project is well received by NASA and the space agency allocates a budget for further research. Then it will take several more years to run the production technology and test long-term operation. And only then, if there are no engineering problems, such an engine will be able to appear as an ordinary engine on the same Martian missiles.
That is, the appearance of such engines is obvious, and the horizon is in 10 years, and the first manned missions to Mars should go already by the end of this decade. If the scientists manage to solve the problem of crew protection from the prolonged exposure to hard cosmic radiation. Because with current technology will come to Mars already poorly adequate and probably already sick people, and not able to work astronauts. In any case, all experiments on mice and rats to study the effects on the body of hard cosmic rays.