- Conference date: 31 Jan - 4 Feb 1999
- Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA)
Space fission power systems can potentially enhance or enable ambitious lunar and Martian surface missions. Research into space fission power systems has been ongoing (at various levels) since the 1950s, but to date the United States (US) has flown only one space fission system, SNAP-10A, in 1965. Cost and development time have been significant reasons why space fission systems have not been used by the US. High cost and long development time are not inherent to the use of space fission power. However, high cost and long development time are inherent to any program that tries to do too much at once. Nearly all US space fission power programs have attempted to field systems capable of high power, even though more modest systems had not yet been flown. All of these programs have failed to fly a space fission system. Relatively low power (10 to 100 kWe) fission systems may be useful for near-term lunar and Martian surface missions, including missions in which in situ resource utilization is a priority. Such systems may also be useful for deep-space science missions and other missions. These systems can be significantly less expensive to develop than high power systems. Experience gained in the development of low-power space fission systems can then be used to enable cost-effective development of high-power (>1000 kWe) fission systems. The Heatpipe Power System (HPS) is a potential, near-term, low-cost space fission power system. The Heatpipe Bimodal System (HBS) is a potential, near-term, low-cost space fission power and/or propulsion system. Both systems will be composed of independent modules, and all components use existing technology and operate within the existing database. The HPS and HBS have relatively few system integration issues; thus, the successful development of a module is a significant step toward verifying system feasibility and performance estimates. A prototypic HPS module was fabricated, and initial testing was completed in April 1997. All test objectives were accomplished, demonstrating the basic feasibility of the HPS. Fabrication of an HBS module is under way, and testing should begin in 1999.
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