INNOVATIVE CONCEPT FOR AN ULTRA-SMALL NUCLEAR THERMAL ROCKET UTILIZING A NEW MODERATED REACTOR

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Although the harsh space environment imposes many severe challenges to space pioneers, space exploration is a realistic and profitable goal for long-term humanity survival. One of the viable and promising options to overcome the harsh environment of space is nuclear propulsion. Particularly, the Nuclear Thermal Rocket (NTR) is a leading candidate for near-term human missions to Mars and beyond due to its relatively high thrust and efficiency. Traditional NTR designs use typically high power reactors with fast or epithermal neutron spectrums to simplify core design and to maximize thrust. In parallel there are a series of new NTR designs with lower thrust and higher efficiency, designed to enhance mission versatility and safety through the use of redundant engines (when used in a clustered engine arrangement) for future commercialization. This paper proposes a new NTR design of the second design philosophy, Korea Advanced NUclear Thermal Engine Rocket (KANUTER), for future space applications. The KANUTER consists of an Extremely High Temperature Gas cooled Reactor (EHTGR) utilizing hydrogen propellant, a propulsion system, and an optional electricity generation system to provide propulsion as well as electricity generation. The innovatively small engine has the characteristics of high efficiency, being compact and lightweight, and bimodal capability. The notable characteristics result from the moderated EHTGR design, uniquely utilizing the integrated fuel element with an ultra heat-resistant carbide fuel, an efficient metal hydride moderator, protectively cooling channels and an individual pressure tube in an all-in-one package. The EHTGR can be bimodally operated in a propulsion mode of 100 MWth and an electricity generation mode of 100 kWth, equipped with a dynamic energy conversion system. To investigate the design features of the new reactor and to estimate referential engine performance, a preliminary design study in terms of neutronics and thermohydraulics was carried out. The result indicates that the innovative design has great potential for high propellant efficiency and thrust-to-weight of engine ratio, compared with the existing NTR designs. However, the build-up of fission products in fuel has a significant impact on the bimodal operation of the moderated reactor such as xenon-induced dead time. This issue can be overcome by building in excess reactivity and control margin for the reactor design.
Publisher
KOREAN NUCLEAR SOC
Issue Date
2015-10
Language
ENG
Article Type
Article
Keywords

SPACE PROPULSION; CARBIDE FUELS; DESIGN

Citation

NUCLEAR ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY, v.47, no.6, pp.678 - 699

ISSN
1738-5733
DOI
10.1016/j.net.2015.06.003
URI
http://hdl.handle.net/10203/205249
Appears in Collection
NE-Journal Papers(저널논문)
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