The technology would make transportation to Mars much faster. The British Space Agency and Rolls-Royce will now carry out a study on how nuclear power can be used to power spacecraft.
The single ticket trip to Mars means 150-300 days in space – but a nuclear-powered space rocket could speed up the journey considerably.
Twelve years ago, Russian scientists were of the opinion that nuclear engines are the right way to go for longer space travel, for example to Mars.
Nasa has in turn developed a small reactor called Kilopower, which can be used for manned space travel. Alternatively, the plant can supply ten kilowatts of electricity to bases on, for example, Mars, with a lifespan of ten years. It reports Energy news.
“Atomic propulsion in space changes the playing field”
Now the British are also jumping on board. The UK Space Agency announces that they, together with Rolls-Royce, will carry out a study of how nuclear power can be used to get further into space. It reports Engineering and Technology.
In the partnership, they will, among other things, bring together planetary scientists with nuclear scientists, and the British government hopes that the investment in the future will be able to provide many new jobs.
– Nuclear power and nuclear-based propulsion in space is a concept that changes the playing field and can open the way for future trips to outer space – which takes us to Mars and then even further. This study will help us understand the exciting potential of nuclear-powered spacecraft, and whether this transformative technology could help us travel farther and faster through space than we have ever done before, says UK Space Agency chief Graham Turnock.
The journey to Mars is faster
How, then, should nuclear fuel provide propulsion? The concept has been studied since the 50s and there are several approaches. One can use a reactor similar to those in nuclear submarines to heat a gas, for example hydrogen.
When the hydrogen gas is accelerated through the rocket nozzle, the system becomes more than twice as efficient as with a conventional chemical fuel, ie it generates twice as much traction when the mass of fuel is the same. Travel time to the red planet could thus be reduced by 20-25 percent. It reports The Conversation.
Another alternative is to use the reactor’s energy for an electric propulsion system, such as an ion motor. With a Hall-effect thruster (HET), ions are accelerated from, for example, xenon or krypton, and it is believed that the plasma jet can provide a three times as efficient propulsion as the accelerated hydrogen gas. However, the technology is not fully mature yet.
A major problem regardless of concept is the radiation that the astronauts will be exposed to, as the spacecraft must be kept light and thus can not offer the same protection that reactors have on Earth.
Source: Nyteknik – Senaste nytt by www.nyteknik.se.
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