- Conference date: 26-30 Jan 1997
- Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA)
A radiatively-coupled in-core thermionic space reactor is proposed that may offer a number of economic and performance benefits. This design combines the advantages of fuel loading after conducting non-nuclear system tests (characteristic of a single-cell design) with the performance benefits of a multi-cell design. Permitting full system tests without nuclear fuel can significantly reduce testing costs while improving reliability of the flight system. In addition, the approach permits the entire system to be transported to the launch site without nuclear fuel. Consequently, program planners can avoid the expensive development of a large shipping cask, or the potential costly completion of system assembly at the launch site. The concept uses a fast reactor as the power source; therefore, the development of a moderator capable of long operational times and high temperature is unnecessary. A fast reactor also permits the use of refractory materials without a significant critical mass penalty from resonance capture of neutrons. The high operating temperature permitted by refractory materials and multi-cell performance improvements will increase system efficiency and reduce radiator surface area requirements. The combination of higher efficiency and reduced radiator area can reduce system size and mass, resulting in launch cost savings. A conceptual design of the reactor power system has been completed. The RSMASS-D model was used to estimate a mass optimized system configuration. System mass predictions for the proposed concept compare favorably to mass predictions for alternative space reactor power system approaches.
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