Dual-mode, high energy utilization system concept for mars missions

El-Genk, Mohamed S.
January 2000
AIP Conference Proceedings;2000, Vol. 504 Issue 1, p1290
Academic Journal
This paper describes a dual-mode, high energy utilization system concept based on the Pellet Bed Reactor (PeBR) to support future manned missions to Mars. The system uses proven Closed Brayton Cycle (CBC) engines to partially convert the reactor thermal power to electricity. The electric power generated is kept the same during the propulsion and the power modes, but the reactor thermal power in the former could be several times higher, while maintaining the reactor temperatures almost constant. During the propulsion mode, the electric power of the system, minus ∼1–5 kW[sub e] for house keeping, is used to operate a Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). In addition, the reactor thermal power, plus more than 85% of the head load of the CBC engine radiators, are used to heat hydrogen. The hot hydrogen is mixed with the high temperature plasma in a VASIMR to provide both high thrust and I[sub sp]>35,000 N.s/kg, reducing the travel time to Mars to about 3 months. The electric power also supports surface exploration of Mars. The fuel temperature and the inlet temperatures of the He-Xe working fluid to the nuclear reactor core and the CBC turbine are maintained almost constant during both the propulsion and power modes to minimize thermal stresses. Also, the exit temperature of the He-Xe from the reactor core is kept at least 200 K below the maximum fuel design temperature. The present system has no single point failure and could be tested fully assembled in a ground facility using electric heaters in place of the nuclear reactor. Operation and design parameters of a 40-kW[sub e] prototype are presented and discussed to illustrate the operation and design principles of the proposed system. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.


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