John Bucknell presented at the Starship Congress 2017 his Nuclear Thermal Turbo Rocket and applied for a single stage to orbit mission of placing a space habitat. John Bucknell worked on the Spacex Raptor rocket as a senior engineer so he is very qualified to understand current rocket technology and rockets in general.
Nextbigfuture has noted that NASA has funded $18.8 million on advancing nuclear thermal rocket propulsion by studying low enriched uranium for the fuel. Nuclear-powered rocket concepts are not new. The United States conducted studies and significant ground tests from 1955 to 1972 to determine the viability of such systems, but ceased testing when plans for a crewed Mars mission were deferred.
The NERVA NRX (Nuclear Rocket Experimental) program started testing in September 1964. The final engine in this series was the XE, designed with flight design hardware and fired in a downward position into a low-pressure chamber to simulate a vacuum. SNPO fired NERVA NRX/XE twenty-eight times in March 1968. The series all generated 1100 MW, and many of the tests concluded only when the test-stand ran out of hydrogen propellant. NERVA NRX/XE produced the baseline 75,000 lbf (334 kN) thrust that Marshall required in Mars mission plans.
To reduce the cost of testing new NTRs, the Subsurface Active Filtering of Exhaust (SAFE) method was proposed. In the SAFE concept, the nuclear rocket test would utilize the methodology as nuclear weapon tests. The rocket would be sealed from above and fired downward into the sub-strata of the Nevada Test Site.
From previous work on the subject, all fissionable products except the noble gases Xenon and Krypton will be trapped in the alluvium underneath the test range. This would allow all the necessary preflight tests be completed for an NTR without the need for the expensive filtering process required for NERVA rockets. Using the existing methodology of scrubbing the exhaust, the testing costs were expected to be $46.5 million accounting for 30% management overhead, but the SAFE concept would reduce that cost to $3.9 million. This difference in testing cost is substantial, but not only would this concept be cheaper, but also would allow the motor to be tested at different settings and for full duration compared to one power setting for the scrubbing procedure. The designers could then learn significantly more during the testing phase with the SAFE concept and the entire propulsion system would be more flexible to changes in payload and launch mass creep.
NASA has funded other experiments, developments of simulations to advance the detailed engineering of nuclear thermal rockets. John’s nuclear thermal rocket designs could be developed in 10-20 years if we made rational and economic choices without irrational fears.
John’s design is an air breathing nuclear thermal rocket propulsion cycle called the Nuclear Thermal Turbo Rocket improves payload fraction to Low Earth Orbit by a factor of 15-18 relative to State of the Art chemical rockets.
The proposed mission places a habitat for up to 2,000 persons at any Near Earth Orbit location for low mission expenditure. The habitat is equipped with up to full terrestrial gravity simulation, cosmic/solar radiation shielding, a thermal/electric power supply with beamed power capability and a powerful rocket transportation system.
He designs a lunar water mining machine and calculates the launches of lunar ice that inflate a 40,000 ton habitat.
Near Earth Object mining, solar power farming, or any other follow on use for such a habitat is possible.
Within 5 years after building our first nuclear thermal turbo rocket we could have earth like gravity and radiation protection for a nearly aircraft carrier population in space. Current long term space habitation in small stations, moon bases or Mars bases would not have full earth gravity and often have imperfect radiation shielding. Here the design has no sacrifices in gravity or radiation shielding. There is no question that longterm habitation in space would be safe in such a habitat because the gravity would be the same as Earth.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.