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Nuclear-Powered Rockets Get a Second Look for Travel to Mars

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Old December 24th 20, 12:20 AM posted to sci.space.policy
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Default Nuclear-Powered Rockets Get a Second Look for Travel to Mars

Are nukes the future of space travel?

"For all the controversy they stir up on Earth, nuclear reactors can produce
the energy and propulsion needed to rapidly take large spacecraft to Mars
and, if desired, beyond. The idea of nuclear rocket engines dates back to the
1940s. This time around, though, plans for interplanetary missions propelled
by nuclear fission and fusion are being backed by new designs that have a
much better chance of getting off the ground.

Crucially, the nuclear engines are meant for interplanetary travel only, not for
use in the Earth’s atmosphere. Chemical rockets launch the craft out beyond
low Earth orbit. Only then does the nuclear propulsion system kick in.

The challenge has been making these nuclear engines safe and lightweight.
New fuels and reactor designs appear up to the task, as NASA is now
working with industry partners for possible future nuclear-fueled crewed
space missions. “Nuclear propulsion would be advantageous if you want to
go to Mars and back in under two years,” says Jeff Sheehy, chief engineer in
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. To enable that mission
capability, he says, “a key technology that needs to be advanced is the fuel.”"




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