USNC-Tech proposes the design of a scalable ultrahigh-temperature material property testing and performance evaluation facility specialized for space nuclear reactor core and fuel components. This testing facility will be capable of material evaluation under vacuum, hydrogen, nitrogen, and argon atmospheres at temperatures up to 2700 °C. Both contact and non-contact measurement methods for testing data collection are included as part of the design of this system, and are within the scope of this proposal. The combination of ultrahigh-temperature testing, hydrogen atmospheric conditions, and contact/non-contact data collection is a very challenging set of requirements to simultaneously achieve. Two existing facilities can perform hot hydrogen testing (CFEET and NTREES) but neither has the capability to perform in-situ material characterization. The proposed solution will be the only known system that simultaneously combines ultrahigh-temperature testing, hydrogen atmosphere, and material property data collection at temperature.
LEU-NTP and NTP flight demonstrator projects are developing NTP technologies for use in deep space exploration missions. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Defense is beginning a project to develop NTP technologies for military applications. Among the nuclear fuel technologies currently being developed in those projects, carbide fuels are uniquely capable for operation at the highest operational temperatures and compete in a class of their own for capabilities of operation above 1,000s Isp.
USNC-Tech is actively engaged with multiple companies that are seeking to develop space nuclear technology for the emerging in-space economy. Additionally, hydrogen production is key to USNC-Tech’s parent company, USNC. USNC has entered into agreements to develop hydrogen production technologies with major industry partners and the capabilities developed in this SBIR are highly relevant.