It is widely understood that Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) has the inherent capability to dramatically expand our ability to explore the solar system, and to more safely transport human crews within interplanetary space. However, since the Timberwind (TW)/Space Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (SNTP) program was terminated in 1993, little progress has been made, and no nuclear fuels testing has occurred. Since the recrudescence of NASA’s NTP program, it will be necessary to test fuels prior to developing a useful fuel element, thence a NTP engine. The last Congressional appropriation set a 2020 budget of over $120M for nuclear thermal propulsion with the requirement to perform an early flight test. This proposal addresses using previously developed fuel particle testing information generated by the DOD Timberwind/Space Nuclear Thermal Propulsion program, where fuel particle testing was accomplished in the Annular Core Research Reactor at Sandia National Laboratories, and applying it to testing in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Reactor Facilities. This proposal will investigate, analyze, and perform preliminary analyses on a new fuel test capsule to be used at MIT. Further, Preliminary and Final Safety Analysis Reports recovery from Sandia archives will be attempted to assist in the safety analysis effort.
NASA is pursuing nuclear thermal propulsion. There are a modest number of concepts associated with their technology developments. Most of the fuel forms and compositions require testing in-core with substantial power and neutron fluence. This proposal directly addresses the need for nuclear fuel testing for NTP.
There are a number of other programs seeking to develop new space and terrestrial reactors, including DARPA and OUDR&E. This testing will enhance their development efforts.