NIAC Award: Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration

SPEAR Probe (Credit: Tory Howe)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program
Phase I Award: Up to $125,000 for 9 Months

SPEAR Probe – An Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration
Troy Howe
Howe Industries LLC

Nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) systems have the potential to provide a very effective transit mechanism to celestial bodies outside of the realm of solar power, yet the heavy power source and massive radiators required to justify a reactor core often push NEP spacecraft towards very large masses and major missions. If the total mass of an NEP system could be reduced to levels that were able to be launched on smaller vehicles, these devices could deliver scientific payloads to anywhere in the solar system.


NASA Invests in Shapeshifters, Biobots & Other Visionary Technology

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is investing in technology concepts that include meteoroid impact detection, space telescope swarms, and small orbital debris mapping technologies that may one day be used for future space exploration missions.

The agency selected 25 early-stage technology proposals that have the potential to transform future human and robotic exploration missions, introduce new exploration capabilities, and significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.


NASA Contracts with BWXT Nuclear Energy to Advance Nuclear Thermal Propulsion

Credit: NASA

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — As NASA pursues innovative, cost-effective alternatives to conventional propulsion technologies to forge new paths into the solar system, researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, say nuclear thermal propulsion technologies are more promising than ever, and have contracted with BWXT Nuclear Energy, Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia, to further advance and refine those concepts.


NASA’s Marshall Center’s ‘NTREES’ Facility Tests ‘Ticket to Mars’ Technologies

The NTREES test facility -- housed at the Marshall Space Flight Center -- safely tests simulated nuclear fuel elements, which reduce risk and costs associated with advanced propulsion technologies. (Credit:  NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)
The NTREES test facility — housed at the Marshall Space Flight Center — safely tests simulated nuclear fuel elements, which reduce risk and costs associated with advanced propulsion technologies. (Credit:
NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — Nuclear Thermal Propulsion technologies are the subject of a new test series at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Researchers there are using an innovative test facility to study the properties of highly promising nuclear fuels — without the risk of radiation exposure associated with handling these potent power sources. The current test series focused on analysis of a variety of fuel elements in a simulated thermal environment kicked off in early October with completion targeted in June 2015.


Russians Aim for Landings on Moon, Mercury, Phobos and Europa

During the International Academy of Astronautics Summit on Wednesday, Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov laid out Russia’s ambitious plans for Solar System exploration, which includes a sample return from Phobos and the Moon as well as landings on the planet Mercury and Jupiter’s moon Europa. The meeting, which was aimed at deepening international cooperation in space, was attended by 27 heads of space agencies.

The Russian space agency and ITAR-TASS reported on Perminov’s comments, which also included remarks about nuclear propulsion, climate change monitoring, asteroid missions, space situational awareness, and the International Space Station.


NASA, Roscosmos Discuss Cooperation on Lunar, Asteroid Missions and Nuclear Propulsion

Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov

Roscosmos and NASA Negotiate Missions to Distant Space
Roscosmos PAO

Space agencies of Russia and US, Roscosmos and NASA, discuss space missions to distant space, Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov stated at the summit of the space agency heads held under the aegis of International Academy of Astronautics in Washington.

Perminov and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who both lead Space Cooperation Working Group in the framework of the Russian-US President Commission, met in Washington to hold the third meeting of the Working Group.

According to Roscosmos Head, Russian proposals concerning future cooperation “had been submitted to NASA”. The list includes different options, including missions to LLO and asteroids. The agenda also covered future cooperation in the Russia-initiated Mercury landing program and development of a nuclear propulsion system.

Nuclear propulsion systems are considered for large-scale human missions, not for small spacecraft which could use other type of propulsion – ionic engines or solar wind energy. The system is unique, as no other propulsion in the world is made on the basis of similar principles.

Perminov: Mars Trips Could Take 2-4 Months With Nuclear Propulsion

Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov


The attempts to improve parameters of the existing rocket propulsion systems are unreasonable, Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov stated, questioned by news media during the International Astronautical Congress in Prague.

“No matter, how many experts in the world, and no matter how much they work, they would provide maximum improvement of any existing propulsion which is measured in a fraction of percent only. The most has been made of the available propulsions – liquid or solid-propellant. Any attempt to improve the thrust or momentum is hopeless,” the Head of the Russian Federal Space Agency said.

On the other hand, he believes, nuclear propulsion is able to improve these parameters significantly:


Perminov: Nuclear Engine Key to Interplanetary Missions

Presentation by Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov
at the Heads of the Agency Plenary
International Astronautic Conference 2010
Sept. 27 — Prague

“Roscosmos actively uses space technologies for innovative economical evolution. With the budget much lower than the NASA’s one, we have to work day and night to achieve the objectives we have.

“We keep high launch intensiveness of Russian rocket carriers. Since last October, we have made 29 launches, i.e. 41% of the number of launches in the world.


Russia Begins Nuclear Rocket Engine Program

Russia earmarks $17 mln to research nuclear-propelled spacecraft
RIA Novosti

The Russian government will allocate 500 million rubles ($16.7 million) in 2010 on a project to build a spaceship with a nuclear engine.

In line with an order issued by the Cabinet on December 29, a total of 430 million rubles ($14.4 mln) will be given to the Rosatom state nuclear corporation, and the rest to the Federal Space Agency Roscosmos.


Russia to Begin Work on Nuclear Rockets for Human Mars Exploration

Russia to start research into spacecraft nuclear engines in 2010
RIA Novosti

Russia will launch research into nuclear engines for spaceships from 2010, the head of the Federal Space Agency said on Sunday.

“Nuclear engines for spaceships are a very promising area. Such engines should be created to make flights to Mars and other planets, for example,” Anatoly Perminov said.

Perminov earlier said that the development of Megawatt-class nuclear space power systems (MCNSPS) for manned spacecraft was crucial for Russia if the country wanted to maintain a competitive edge in the space race, including the exploration of the Moon and Mars.

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