NASA’s 2021 Achievements Included Mars Landing, First Flight, Artemis, More

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2021, NASA completed its busiest year of development yet in low-Earth orbit, made history on Mars, continued to make progress on its Artemis plans for the Moon, tested new technologies for a supersonic aircraft, finalized launch preparations for the next-generation space telescope, and much more – all while safely operating during a pandemic and welcoming new leadership under the Biden-Harris Administration.

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U.S. Government Finds that Reactor for Moon Does Not Require Bomb-Grade Uranium Fuel

NPPP Obtains Report under Freedom of Information Act

AUSTIN (NPPP PR) – The nuclear reactor that NASA plans to launch to the Moon’s surface later this decade to power a manned mission would not require weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel, according to a government study released yesterday that contradicts previous assertions. The report, “Analysis of Alternative Core Designs for Fission Surface Power Capability Demonstration Mission,” was released to the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

As recently as 2018, U.S. officials had claimed that bomb-grade fuel was necessary to reduce the weight of space power reactors and had tested such a reactor at a national laboratory. By contrast, the new report reveals that using low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, which is unsuitable for nuclear weapons, would not increase the total weight of the reactor system if a “moderator” were used to slow down the neutrons to facilitate nuclear fission.

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House Passes Infrastructure Spending Bill With Extra $1 Billion for NASA

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 5376, the Build Back Better Act last week that includes billions of dollars in funds for NASA, NOAA and other scientific and technology agencies.

In addition to funding improvements to physical infrastructure, the measure puts a major emphasis on addressing climate change, a problem that the Biden Administration takes seriously. The previous president described as a Chinese plot to destroy American industry.

The bill now goes to the Senate where its fate is uncertain.

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Fission System to Power Exploration on the Moon’s Surface and Beyond

Artist’s concept of a fission power system on the lunar surface. (Credit: NASA)

CLEVELAND (NASA PR) — Exploration of the Moon and Mars requires the power of human imagination and vision. It also takes the power of electricity to bring science and technology to life when astronauts land and stay on the surface. 

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USNC-Tech Team Wins Contract to Develop Nuclear Thermal Propulsion System For NASA

Nuclear thermal propulsion system. (Credit; USNC-Tech)

NTP Technology Can Enable Human Missions to Mars

SEATTLE (USNC-Tech PR) — Idaho National Laboratory has selected USNC-Tech and its partners to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) reactor concept design for space exploration: the Power-Adjusted Demonstration Mars Engine (PADME) NTP engine.

This effort, one of three selected by the government team, is a step toward the manufacture and demonstration of safe, affordable, reliable, high-performance NTP engines for crewed deep space travel. In the future, the designs could inform a full-scale NTP engine prototype. The funding for this procurement was provided by NASA. INL is operated by Battelle Energy Alliance for the Department of Energy.

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NASA Would Receive $4.4 Billion Under House Bill; DOE’s Radioisotope Processing Facility Funding Increased

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would received an additional $4.4 billion to perform repairs and upgrades on its aging infrastructure, conduct climate change research and development (R&D) and improve cybersecurity under an infrastructure spending bill now under consideration by the House of Representatives.

The funding does not include any money to fund a second human lander for NASA’s Artemis program that would likely have gone to the National Team led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The space agency awarded a single source contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

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NASA Announces Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Reactor Concept Awards

Illustration of a conceptual spacecraft enabled by nuclear thermal propulsion. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA is leading an effort, working with the Department of Energy (DOE), to advance space nuclear technologies. The government team has selected three reactor design concept proposals for a nuclear thermal propulsion system. The reactor is a critical component of a nuclear thermal engine, which would utilize high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel.

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Report: Biden to Retain National Space Council

NASA’s Orion spacecraft that flew Exploration Flight Test-1 on Dec. 5, 2014 is seen on the South Lawn of the White House, Sunday, July 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. Lockheed Martin, NASA’s prime contractor for Orion, began manufacturing the Orion crew module in 2011 and delivered it in July 2012 to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where final assembly, integration and testing was completed. More than 1,000 companies across the country manufactured or contributed elements to the spacecraft. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Politico reports that the Biden Administration will retain the National Space Council. The council was revived by the Trump Administration in 2017 to coordinate national space activities after a 24-year gap in operation.

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Touchdown! NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover Safely Lands on Red Planet

A low-resolution image of the Perseverance rover’s landing site taken by an engineering camera. Dust stirred up by the landing partially obscures the terrain. (Credit: NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another world touched down on Mars Thursday, after a 203-day journey traversing 293 million miles (472 million kilometers). Confirmation of the successful touchdown was announced in mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California at 3:55 p.m. EST (12:55 p.m. PST).

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Receives Contract for up to Two More MMRTGS for Future Deep Space Exploration Missions

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Perseverance Rover. Perseverance’s power source, a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne, is visible at the aft end of the rover. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

LOS ANGELES, Calif., Feb. 12, 2021 – Aerojet Rocketdyne recently received a contract award to deliver up to two Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (MMRTG) to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for use in future planetary science missions. MMRTGs are radioisotope power systems that have been used as reliable electrical power sources on multiple deep space missions, including NASA’s Perseverance Rover, which will land on Mars on Feb. 18.

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Executive Summary, Findings & Recommendations from National Academies Report on Space Nuclear Propulsion

FIGURE 2.1 Photo of a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system from the Rover/NERVA programs (left) and a cutaway schematic with labels (right). SOURCE: M. Houts et. al., NASA’s Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Project, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, August 2018, ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/20180006514.

Space Nuclear Propulsion for Human Mars Exploration
National Academics of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
National Academies Press
2021

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate requested the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to convene an ad hoc committee to identify primary technical and programmatic challenges, merits, and risks for developing and demonstrating space nuclear propulsion technologies of interest to future exploration missions. The particular systems of interest were specified as nuclear thermal propulsion and nuclear electric propulsion systems. The committee was also tasked with determining the key milestones, a top-level development and demonstration roadmap, and other missions that could be enabled by successful development of these systems.

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Department of Energy Releases ‘Energy for Space’ Strategy

Policy Recommendations Support America’s Renewed Leadership in Space

WASHINGTON, D.C. (DOE PR) – Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the “Energy for Space” strategy, an outlook of policy recommendations to further DOE’s role in powering the next generation of space exploration. “Energy for Space” supports President Trump’s recently released National Space Policy, and calls for DOE to be an essential source of the science, technology, and engineering solutions that are needed for advancing U.S. leadership in the space domain.

“Under the vision outlined in today’s “Energy for Space” plan, DOE’s scientific and engineering capabilities will be applied to overcome the challenges of vast distances, extreme conditions, complex operations, and unfamiliar environments to propel and power exploration, security, and commerce in space,” said Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “In coordination with NASA, the interagency, and private sector partners, we must continue to harness the incredible capabilities throughout the DOE enterprise to expand exploration and utilization of the space domain.”

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NASA Supports America’s National Strategy for Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion

Illustration of a Mars transit habitat and nuclear propulsion system that could one day take astronauts to Mars. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — President Donald Trump has issued a new Space Policy Directive that will help propel NASA and humanity’s next giant leap – creating a sustainable presence on the Moon and sending astronauts to Mars.

The president issued Space Policy Directive-6 (SPD-6), the Nation’s Strategy for Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion (SNPP), Wednesday, Dec. 16. Space nuclear systems power spacecraft for missions where alternative power sources are inadequate, such as environments that are too dark for solar power or too far away to carry sufficient quantities of chemical fuels.

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Memorandum on the National Strategy for Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion (Space Policy Directive-6)

Illustration of a Mars transit habitat and nuclear propulsion system that could one day take astronauts to Mars. (Credits: NASA)

Space Policy Directive-6

MEMORANDUM FOR THE VICE PRESIDENT
THE SECRETARY OF STATE
THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
THE SECRETARY OF COMMERCE
THE SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION
THE SECRETARY OF ENERGY
THE DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT
AND BUDGET
THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL
SECURITY AFFAIRS
THE ADMINISTRATOR OF THE NATIONAL AERONAUTICS
AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
THE CHAIRMAN OF THE NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
THE DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF SCIENCE AND
TECHNOLOGY POLICY

SUBJECT: National Strategy for Space Nuclear Power
and Propulsion

Section 1. Policy. The ability to use space nuclear power and propulsion (SNPP) systems safely, securely, and sustainably is vital to maintaining and advancing United States dominance and strategic leadership in space. SNPP systems include radioisotope power systems (RPSs) and fission reactors used for power or propulsion in spacecraft, rovers, and other surface elements. SNPP systems can allow operation of such elements in environments in which solar and chemical power are inadequate. They can produce more power at lower mass and volume compared to other energy sources, thereby enabling persistent presence and operations. SNPP systems also can shorten transit times for crewed and robotic spacecraft, thereby reducing radiation exposure in harsh space environments.

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Nuclear Tech in Space: What’s on the Horizon?

Illustration of a Mars transit habitat and nuclear propulsion system that could one day take astronauts to Mars. (Credits: NASA)

La Grange Park, Ill. (American Nuclear Society PR) — NASA aims to develop nuclear technologies for two space applications: propulsion and surface power. Both can make planned NASA missions to the moon more agile and more ambitious, and both are being developed with future crewed missions to Mars in mind. Like advanced reactors here on Earth, space nuclear technologies have an accelerated timeline for deployment in this decade.

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