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New Class of Bimodal NTP/NEP with a Wave Rotor Topping Cycle Enabling Fast Transit to Mars

Ryan Gosse 
University of Florida, Gainesville

Diagram of wave rotor used to decouple reactor with motive gas allowing for increased Isp.

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) is identified as the preferred propulsion technology for manned missions throughout the solar system.   The state-of-the-art NTP cycle is based on solid core Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) class technology that is envisioned to provide a specific impulse (Isp) of 900 seconds doubling chemical rocket performance (450 seconds).  Even with this impressive increase, the NTP NERVA designs  still have issues providing adequate initial to final mass fractions for high DeltaV missions.  Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NEP) can provide extremely high Isp (>10,000 seconds) but with only low thrust and limits on mass to power ratios.  The need for an electric power source also adds the issue of heat rejection in space where thermal energy conversion is at best 30-40% under ideal conditions.  A novel Wave Rotor (WR) topping cycle is proposed that promises to deliver similar thrust as NERVA class NTP propulsion, but with Isp in the 1400-2000 second range.  Coupled with an NEP cycle, the duty cycle Isp can further be increased (1800-4000 seconds) with minimal addition of dry mass.  This bimodal design enables the fast transit for manned missions (45 days to Mars) and revolutionizes the deep space exploration of our solar system.

2023 Phase I Selection