Mini-MITEE: Ultra Small, Ultra Light NTP Engines for Robotic Science and Manned Exploration Missions

Powell, James; Maise, George; Paniagua, John
January 2006
AIP Conference Proceedings;2006, Vol. 813 Issue 1, p879
Conference Proceeding
A compact, ultra lightweight Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) engine design is described with the capability to carry out a wide range of unique and important robotic science missions that are not possible using chemical or Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NEP). The MITEE (MInature ReacTor EnginE) reactor uses hydrogeneous moderator, such as solid lithium-7 hydride, and high temperature cermet tungsten/UO2 nuclear fuel. The reactor is configured as a modular pressure tube assembly, with each pressure tube containing an outer annual shell of moderator with an inner annular region of W/UO2 cermet fuel sheets. H2 propellant flows radially inwards through the moderator and fuel regions, exiting at ∼3000 K into a central channel that leads to a nozzle at the end of the pressure tube. Power density in the fuel region is 10 to 20 megawatts per liter, depending on design, producing a thrust output on the order of 15,000 Newtons and an Isp of ∼1000 seconds. 3D Monte Carlo neutronic analyses are described for MITEE reactors utilizing various fissile fuel options (U-235, U-233, and Am242m) and moderators (7LiH and BeH2). Reactor mass ranges from a maximum of 100 kg for the 7LiH/U-235 option to a minimum of 28 kg for the BeH2/Am-242 m option. Pure thrust only and bi-modal (thrust plus electric power generation) MITEE designs are described. Potential unique robotic science missions enabled by the MITEE engine are described, including landing on Europa and exploring the ice sheet interior with return of samples to Earth, hopping to and exploring multiple sites on Mars, unlimited ramjet flight in the atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune and landing on, and sample return from Pluto. © 2006 American Institute of Physics


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