1992-08-03

10 KWe Dual-Mode Space Nuclear Power System for Military and Scientific Applications 929072

A 10 KWe dual-mode space power system concept has been identified which is based on INEL's Small Externally-fueled Heat Pipe Thermionic Reactor (SEHPTR) concept. This power system will enhance user capabilities by providing reliable electric power and by providing two propulsion systems; electric power for an arc-jet electric propulsion system and direct thrust by heating hydrogen propellant inside the reactor. The low thrust electric thrusters allow efficient station keeping and long-term maneuvering. The direct thrust capability can provide tens of pounds of thrust at a specific impulse of around 730 seconds for maneuvers that must be performed more rapidly. The direct thrust allows the nuclear power system to move a payload from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) in less than one month using approximately half the propellant of a cryogenic chemical stage. The low mass of the power system (approximately 1000 Kg) allows it to be used with payloads launched from Atlas II and potentially Delta launch vehicles, reducing launch costs. This paper will focus on the nuclear power system design, including: the reactor with its UO2 fuel in tungsten clad, 36 thermionic heat pipe modules (THPMs) which produce electricity within the reactor and remove waste heat, radiation shielding, waste heat radiators, and reactivity control systems. The use of non-vented fuel elements for short lifetime missions (under five years) will be described. Non-vented fuel elements reduce the complexity of fuel development and qualification, allowing the system to reach flight status sooner. Methods for producing direct thrust using hydrogen propellant and the mission advantages provided by this direct thrust capability will be briefly discussed.

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