This SBIR will develop a decay heat solution for Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) systems that will significantly reduce the amount of hydrogen required to cool down an NTP system after operation. In addition, novel decay heat solutions will enable functionality beyond current NTP system concepts by enabling dual-mode power co-generation and high-Isp-reactor-powered Reaction Control System (RCS)/Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS).
USNC’s solution to NTP decay heat removal and utilization is a high-temperature tie tube (TT) with a moderator capable of continuous operation at 1000 K. The high-temperature tie tube operates at a much higher temperature than the current baseline NTP tie tube and enables the core to remove decay heat more effectively. The high-temperature tie tube is made of high-temperature-capable structural materials and zirconium hydride (ZrH) clad with a hydrogen barrier that guarantees hydrogen integrity during cooldown conditions. This technology will be demonstrated with advanced modeling and hot hydrogen experiments.
Decay heat solutions are essential for maximizing the performance of NTP systems and guaranteeing system safety. This Phase 2 SBIR will be the most in-depth look into understanding and solving NTP decay heat ever undertaken. Furthermore, the additional co-power generation and RCS/OMS capabilities enabled by high-temperature tie tubes enhances the versatility of NTP for a human Mars mission and other missions beyond low earth orbit.
USNC’s novel decay heat removal and high temperature tie tubes technology utilization have many NASA applications:
Decay heat removal and high temperature operation are critically important for terrestrial nuclear systems being developed by USNC. High temperature tie tubes containing a hydride moderator enable small nuclear systems. Furthermore, NTP systems have application beyond NASA in the emerging space economy for defense and transport of commercial payloads beyond LEO.