Explained: How nuclear-powered rockets can send missions to Mars in 45 days

Source: The post is based on the article “Explained: How nuclear-powered rockets can send missions to Mars in 45 days” published in TOI on 22nd January 2023.

What is the News?

Recently, as part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts(NIAC) program for 2023, NASA selected a bimodal nuclear propulsion concept for Phase I development which could reduce transit times to Mars to just 45 days.

What is Bimodal nuclear propulsion?

Bimodal nuclear propulsion is a two-part system that includes: Nuclear Thermal and Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NTP /NEP).

The Nuclear Thermal system includes a nuclear reactor that will heat liquid hydrogen (LH2) propellant and turn it into ionized hydrogen gas (plasma) that will then be channelled through a nozzle to generate thrust.

Nuclear Electric Propulsion depends on a nuclear reactor to provide electricity to a Hall-Effect thruster (ion engine) which will generate an electromagnetic field that will ionize and accelerate an inert gas to create thrust.

What are the advantages of a Bimodal Nuclear Propulsion?

Bimodal nuclear propulsion has major advantages over conventional chemical propulsion. These benefits include fuel efficiency, a higher specific impulse (Isp) rating and unlimited energy density (virtually). 

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