Robotic Planetary Mission Benefits from Nuclear Electric Propulsion 929071
Several interesting planetary missions are either enabled or significantly enhanced by nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) in the 50 to 100 kW power range. These missions include a Pluto Orbiter/Probe with an 11-year flight time and several years of operational life in orbit versus a ballistic very fast (13 km/s) flyby which would take longer to get to Pluto and would have a very short time to observe the planet. (A ballistic orbiter would take about 40 years to get to Pluto.) Other missions include a Neptune Orbiter/Probe, a Jupiter Grand Tour orbiting each of the major moons in order, a Uranus Orbiter/Probe, a Multiple Mainbelt Asteroid Rendezvous orbiting six selected asteroids, and a Comet Nucleus Sample Return. This paper discusses potential missions and compares the nuclear electric propulsion option to the conventional ballistic approach on a parametric basis.