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Propulsion system which are powered by nuclear energy The idea that nuclear energy could be used for

rocket propulsion started at beginning of twentieth century.


Types of Nuclear Thermal Rockets Solid core -conventional nuclear reactor running at high temperatures to heat the working fluid that is moving through the reactor core Liquid core-by mixing the nuclear fuel into the working fluid, and allowing the reaction to take place in the liquid mixture itself Gas core-The nuclear fission reactor core may be either a gas or plasma

solid-core reactor, To heat a single propellant (working fluid) to as high a temperature as possible, and then to expand the resulting hightemperature gas to the exhaust pressure. In a practical NTR engine, the working fluid is pumped from its supply tank to the reactor nozzle subsystem, where it is first used to cool both the nozzle and the reactors pressure shell, the neutron reflector and the core support structure. Next, the working fluid passes through the reactor core where most of the energy being released by fissioning uranium atoms is absorbed by the working fluid. Finally, the resultant superheated gas is expanded out of the supersonic nozzle.

Typically, solid-core reactor performance can be expected to offer twice the performance of a chemical rocket system, but the attendant engine weight will be significantly greater
A solid-core design typically delivers specific impulses (Isp) on the order of 850 to 1000 seconds, about twice that of liquid hydrogen-oxygen designs such as the Space Shuttle main engine.

The greatest advantage of the nuclear propulsion that it enables to get quite high values of the specific impulse that are not achievable with chemical propulsion methods. That means that the rocket device may be much smaller, with much less working fluid onboard. Some nuclear propulsion methods require quite simple engines that may be more reliable than chemical engines.
The greatest disadvantage of nuclear propulsion is its fuel. Nuclear fuel is not safe due to high radioactivity, and its production and handling are very risky. A launch failure of a rocket with a nuclear powerplant onboard (or carrying a payload with a nuclear device) may have grave consequences. In addition, nuclear devices onboard may be potentially hazardous for crews of manned spacecrafts. This is the reason why nuclear propulsion have not been applied so far

Solid core nuclear engines were being developed in US and the USSR. In US it was the NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application) project to replace the upper stage of the Saturn V

RD-0410 Isp ~ 925 sec Mass 2 tons Burn time 1 h Height 3.7 m Diameter 1.2 m

NERVA stage Isp ~ 825 sec Mass 34 tons Burn time 20 min Height 43.7 m Diameter 10.6 m