a nuclear-powered rocket to go to Mars in 45 days

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The US Space Agency (Nasa) has revealed that it is studying ways to drastically reduce travel time to the planet Mars, thanks to nuclear propulsion.

With current liquid-fuel propulsion technologies, the journey of a manned Mars mission is completed in at least six months, which constitutes a major problem for the physical and mental aspects of astronauts (in particular exposure to radiation), underlines the ‘Agency in a statement, noting that nuclear propulsion is a very advantageous solution.

For this purpose, the Nasa indicates having relaunched a program of nuclear propulsion bimodal, linking both a nuclear thermal propulsion system (NTP) and another of nuclear electric propulsion (NEP), to reach Mars in just 45 days.

The NTP is based on a conventional propellant with liquid hydrogen (LH2) as propellant, which would be heated by an on-board nuclear reactor. This powerful heating changes the hydrogen to a gaseous state, which drastically increases the pressure generated.

The propulsion NEP is based on a nuclear reactor supplying electricity to an ion engine (Hall effect thruster). This generates an electromagnetic field that accelerates gas particles to create thrust. The gas generally used is Xenon. Combining these two propulsions for a single mission makes it possible to be more flexible in the thrust required. Indeed, an interplanetary journey requires both large thrusts (departure and arrival for braking) but also for small trajectory corrections. Moreover, for the comfort of the astronauts, the thrust must not be too powerful. On the other hand, it must be able to last longer.

The Bimodal NTP/NEP concept, proposed by Professor Ryan Goose, head of the Hypersonics program at the University of Florida, suggests the addition of a pressure wave compressor. Associated with the NTP engine, the compressor uses the pressure generated by the heating of the LH2 to compress it even more, and thus further increase the thrust. With a CIP engine, the thrust is also improved. According to Professor Goose, adding this compressor to a bimodal system combining NTP and CIP can reduce travel time to Mars to 45 days.

Read also: NASA: discovery of a potentially habitable planet 100 light years from Earth

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