- Conference date: 10-14 January 1993
- Location: Albuquerque, NM, USA
The NASA transportation strategy for the Mars Exploration architecture includes the use of nuclear thermal propulsion as the primary propulsion system for Mars transits. It is anticipated that the outgrowth of the NERVA/ROVER programs will be a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system capable of providing the propulsion for missions to Mars. The specific impulse (Isp) for such a system is expected to be in the 870 s range. Trade studies were conducted to investigate whether or not it may be cost effective to invest in a higher performance (Isp≳870 s) engine for nuclear thermal propulsion for missions to Mars. The basic cost trades revolved around the amount of mass that must be transported to low‐earth orbit prior to each Mars flight and the cost to launch that mass. The mass required depended on the assumptions made for Mars missions scenarios including piloted/cargo flights, number of Mars missions, and transit time to Mars. Cost parameters included launch cost, program schedule for development and operations, and net discount rate. The results were very dependent on the assumptions that were made. Under some assumptions, higher performance engines showed cost savings in the billions of dollars; under other assumptions, the additional cost to develop higher performance engines was not justified.
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