NEP for a Kuiper Belt Object rendezvous mission

Lipinski, Ronald J.; Lenard, Roger X.; Wright, Steven A.; Houts, Michael G.; Patton, Bruce; Poston, David I.
January 2000
AIP Conference Proceedings;2000, Vol. 504 Issue 1, p1192
Academic Journal
Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) are a recently-discovered set of solar system bodies which lie at about the orbit of Pluto (40 AU) out to about 100 astronomical units (AU). There are estimated to be about 100,000 KBOs with a diameter greater than 100 km. KBOs are postulated to be composed of the pristine material which formed our solar system and may even have organic materials in them. A detailed study of KBO size, orbit distribution, structure, and surface composition could shed light on the origins of the solar system and perhaps even on the origin of life in our solar system. A rendezvous mission including a lander would be needed to perform chemical analysis of the surface and sub-surface composition of KBOs. These requirements set the size of the science probe at around a ton. Mission analyses show that a fission-powered system with an electric thruster could rendezvous at 40 AU in about 13.0 years with a total DV of 46 km/s. It would deliver a 1000-kg science payload while providing ample onboard power for relaying data back to earth. The launch mass of the entire system (power, thrusters, propellant, navigation, communication, structure, science payload, etc.) would be 7984 kg if it were placed into an earth-escape trajectory (C=0). Alternatively, the system could be placed into a 700-km earth orbit with more propellant, yielding a total mass in LEO of 8618 kg, and then spiral out of earth orbit to arrive at the KBO in 14.3 years. To achieve this performance, a fission power system with 100 kW of electrical power and a total mass (reactor, shield, conversion, and radiator) of about 2350 kg. Three possible configurations are proposed: (1) a UZrH-fueled, NaK-cooled reactor with a steam Rankine conversion system, (2) a UN-fueled gas-cooled reactor with a recuperated Brayton conversion system, and (3) a UN-fueled heatpipe-cooled reactor with a recuperated Brayton conversion system. (Boiling and condensation in the Rankine system is a technical risk at prese...


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