NASA Will Flight Test a Nuclear Rocket by 2024 and Other High Tech NASA Projects

A portion of NASA’s $21.5 billion 2019 budget is for developing advanced space power and propulsion technology. NASA will spend $176 to $217 million on maturing new technology. There are projects that NASA has already been working on and others that NASA will start and try to complete. There will be propulsion, robotics, materials and other capabilities. Space technology received $926.9 million in NASA’s 2019 budget.

NASA’s space technology projects look interesting but ten times more resources devoted to advancing technological capability if the NASA budget and priorities were changed.

NASA is only spending 1 of its budget on advanced space power and propulsion technology. NASA will spend $3.5 billion in 2019 on the Space Launch System and Orion capsule. SLS will be a heavy rocket which will start off at around the SpaceX Heavy capacity and then get about the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship in payload capacity. However, the SLS will cost about $1 billion to launch each time which is about ten times more than SpaceX costs. NASA is looking at a 2021-2022 first launch and then a 2024 second launch. This would be $19+ billion from 2019-2024 to get two heavy launches and this is if there are no delays.

NASA is making critical advancements in power generation and energy storage technologies for science and human exploration missions. Propulsion investments focus on higher thrust and efficiency, including alternatives to traditional chemical propulsion systems for deep space exploration spacecraft systems.

Specific investments include development of solar array technology that can generate energy in extreme environments including low light intensity and low temperature; development and testing of a scalable 1kW surface fission power generation system; and rapid transit nuclear thermal propulsion technology utilizing low-enriched uranium that could potentially provide 20 percent shorter travel time to Mars while substantially improving mission flexibility.

The US Congress has approved $100 million for NASA to develop nuclear thermal rocket engines. NASA plans to conduct a flight demonstration by 2024 is new.

BWXT Nuclear Energy is working with NASA on initial nuclear thermal reactor conceptual trades and designs, initial fuel and core fabrication development, licensing support for initial ground testing, and engine test program development.

LEU Nuclear Thermal Propulsion

Current development is for a 500 Megawatt LEU CERMET fuel reactor for manned space applications.

* Design of 19.75% Enriched Ceramic Metallic (CERMET) Tungsten-Clad fuel
* Nuclear, thermal-hydraulics and mechanical design of the reactor
* Licensing and design support for full-scale full-thrust ground test of the NTP engine

Key projects that support this thrust area include the following:

* Kilopower: Through a partnership with Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and Los Alamos National Lab, and small businesses Sunpower, Inc and Advanced Cooling Technologies, NASA is developing a 1kW prototype of a fission power subsystem that is scalable and will potentially provide surface power capability for space exploration. The Kilopower assembly went through vacuum testing at Glenn Research Center for thermal cycling checkout, and will conduct full power test in early FY 2018 at the Nevada National Security Site.

If successful, NASA will advance this effort to a flight demonstration, and ultimately a 10 kW system for surface power.

* Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP): Investments will enable more efficient spaceflight by developing improved fuel element sources to support potential future nuclear thermal propulsion efforts. In FY 2018, the nuclear thermal propulsion project will continue to refine the NTP technology maturation and ground demonstration plan; complete assessment of a NTP Mars transportation architecture; continue feasibility analysis based on cermet fuel element/reactor conceptual design; update and deliver a final Low-Enriched-Uranium (LEU)-based nuclear thermal propulsion system cost analysis; and refine the fuel element reactor conceptual design.

Industry and government involvement include Aerojet Rocketdyne, AMA, Aerospace, BWXT, and Department of Energy. Risk mitigation activities will complete in FY 2019, culminating in a concept review and determination of whether to proceed with a ground demonstration phase.

* Sub Kilowatt Electric Propulsion: NASA will demonstrate a ~0.5 kW Hall electric propulsion thruster to be used on ESPA class spacecraft that support exploration and science missions. Recent advances in Hall thruster technology at the 13-kW power level can be applied to 0.5 kW device to drastically alter the spacecraft market with low development risk. The project plans to deliver an engineering qualification model thruster and PPU design in FY 2019 and eventually complete an integrated (xenon and iodine) thruster testing.

* 600W Hall Thruster Qualification Life Test: Through an Announcement of Collaborative Opportunity (ACO) in FY 2018, NASA awarded Busek a three-year project to perform life testing of the BHT-600 Hall Effect Thruster and BHC-1500 Hollow Cathode Assembly (HCA) coupled to a Power Processing Unit. This technology could be infused into sub-KW power level Electric Propulsion systems.

* Modular Power Systems will demonstrate a modular power architecture composed of technologies for power generation, energy storage, power distribution and health management that will reduce the cost of future space systems.

* Other ongoing initiatives include work on advanced propulsion under the NextSTEP BAA awards and modular power for multiple exploration vehicles and systems such as fuel cells.

Advanced Communications, Navigations and Avionics

NASA will fundamentally transform spacecraft systems through investment in high payoff technologies
that increase communication data rate and advance deep space navigation and flight avionics. Key
projects within this portfolio include the following:

* High-Performance Spaceflight Computing: With the Air Force Research Laboratory, NASA is developing a next-generation high-performance space flight computing system that will lead to vastly improved in-space computing performance, energy management, and increased radiation fault tolerance. The new radiation tolerant microprocessor will offer a 75 times improvement in performance relative to the current state of the art RAD750 processor while requiring the same power.

* Software Defined Reliability for Mission Critical Operations: through an FY 2018 ACO, awarded to Astrobotic Technology, this two-year project will mature Astrobotic’s software-defined reliability system for computing.

* Communicating from Earth to any spacecraft is a complex challenge, largely due to the extreme distances involved. When data are transmitted and received across thousands and even millions of miles, the delay and potential for disruption or data loss is significant. Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) is NASA’s solution to reliable internet working for space missions.

* Ka-Band Objects Observation and Monitoring (KaBOOM) will use three 12-meter diameter antennas at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to demonstrate a Ka-Band phased array of widely separated antennas that can instantly compensate for atmospheric twinkling to improve what is seen.

NASA Advanced Material Projects

NASA supports innovation in materials development and low-cost manufacturing that enables increased mission cargo capacity by reduction of structural mass. NASA looks for opportunities to improve the manufacturing technologies, processes, and products prevalent in the aerospace industry. NASA’s unique needs enable a network of collaboration and partnerships with industry, academia, and other government agencies to accelerate innovative manufacturing methods and technologies. Key projects within this portfolio include the following:

* Advanced Near Net Shape Technology: This technology uses innovative metal forming techniques to manufacture integrally stiffened aerospace structures such as cryotanks. The resulting product is 50 percent lower cost and 10 percent lighter due to fewer welds and minimized machining. NASA will build on previous prototyping efforts focusing on scaling up the process for commercial launch vehicles.

Industry partners include MT Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, and Leifeld Metal Spinning, in Ahlen, Germany.

* Additive Construction for Mobile Emplacement: will develop full-scale hardware to 3D print infrastructure components using analog planetary in-situ materials, while developing full-scale hardware with the United States Army Corps of Engineers for terrestrial applications.

* Bulk Metallic Glass: Bulk Metallic Glass gears improve rover mobility performance at low temperatures by eliminating the need for gear lubricant and associated heaters. This project will deliver planetary gears and strain wave gears that will enable planetary surface missions where temperatures drop below the freezing point of typical lubricants.

* Composite Technology for Exploration: By developing new analytical methods to design, build and test innovative hardware, NASA looks to enable a significant increase in the use of new composite materials for the next generation of rockets and spacecraft needed for space exploration.

* The Rapid Analysis Manufacturing Propulsion Technology (RAMPT) project will develop and advance large-scale lightweight manufacturing techniques and analysis capabilities required to reduce design and fabrication cycles for regenerative-cooled liquid rocket engine components.

RAMPT impacts all phases of the thrust chamber life cycle by reducing design, fabrication, assembly schedules (60%) and allowing for reduced parts, increased reliability, and significant weight reduction (70%). RAMPT will partner with industry through a public-private partnership to design and manufacture component parts of the thrust chamber.

* Deployable Composite Boom: The objective of this project is to mature deployable composite boom technology for use in low-cost, small volume, CubeSat/ESPA class spacecraft deployable systems. A technology gap has been identified for deployable composite booms that are 5-20 meter long and capable of packing into a 0.5-3 U volume. These types of booms enable high power solar arrays, antennas for high data rate communications, and high Delta-V propulsion systems to be included on small CubeSat/ESPA class spacecraft.

* In an effort to provide efficient mission and ground operations with reduced dependence on Earth resource, NASA is continuing to invest in in-space manufacturing technologies, including the development of the FabLab for ISS.

Advanced Life Support

NASA will fundamentally transform spacecraft systems through investment in high payoff technologies that advance atmospheric capture and conversion aspects of in-situ resource utilization technologies, closed-loop life support systems, and develop capabilities to mitigate space radiation. Key projects within this portfolio include the following:

* Advanced Radiation Protection: Insufficient data exists to validate thick shield space radiation exposure predictions. The Advanced Radiation Protection project will validate the shielding efficiency of spacecraft materials and verify an optimum Galactic Cosmic Ray shield thickness needed for minimal mass vehicle design. To this end, the project team will work with the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory to design and build radiation detector stands and targets to support a testing of various materials (aluminum, polyethylene, combination). This effort will result in data that will inform deep space habitat construction. This project can be viewed as the necessary first step in the development of a vehicle optimization capability for long duration, heavily shielded vehicles.

* Spacecraft Oxygen Recovery: Oxygen recovery systems are critical when oxygen resupply from Earth is not available, and will be enabling for long-duration human missions. NASA awarded two contracts, Honeywell Aerospace and UMQUA Research Co., to develop technologies that will increase the oxygen recovery rate aboard human spacecraft to at least 75 percent while achieving high reliability. Future maturation of these technologies may be used by the ISS as a proving ground to retire risk and gain experience with capabilities needed for deep-space exploration.

* The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) spacecraft will carry a total of five instruments to lunar orbit—four from South Korea and one from NASA (developed by Arizona State University and Malin Space Science Systems). ShadowCam, the US provided instrument, will map the reflectance within the permanently shadowed regions to search for evidence of frost or ice deposits. The instrument’s optical camera is based on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Narrow Angle Camera, but is 800 times more sensitive, allowing it to obtain high-resolution, high signal to-noise imaging of the moon’s permanently shadowed regions. ShadowCam will observe these regions monthly to detect seasonal changes and measure the terrain inside the craters, including the distribution of boulders. ShadowCam will address strategic knowledge gaps, or lack of information required to reduce risk, increase effectiveness, and improve the designs of future human and robotic missions.

Autonomous Systems

Autonomous systems are critical when exploring or operating in an extreme environment, on Earth or in space (especially for outer planets exploration). This portfolio supports technologies that benefit space exploration and also support manufacturers, businesses and other entities. Key technology efforts include:

* Autonomous Medical Operations: The objective of this project is to develop a “medical decision support system” to enable astronauts on long-duration exploration missions to operate autonomously while independent of Earth contact. Such a system is not intended to replace a “Chief Medical Officer” (CMO), but rather to support the CMO’s medical actions by providing advice and procedure recommendations during emergent care and clinical work. The Autonomous Medical Operations system will enable rapid, assured acquisition and analysis of sensor data to support differential diagnosis; analysis from medical on-board notes and on-board databases (including tailoring to individual astronauts); and automated reasoning using structured and unstructured data.

* Autonomous Pop Up Flat Folding Exploration Robot: The objective of this project is to enable the “Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robots” (PUFFER) to operate autonomously, both individually and as a multi-robot team. PUFFER is a miniature mobile robot that is designed as a low-volume, low mass, low-cost mission enhancement for accessing new high-interest extreme terrains. PUFFER is capable of supporting future lunar, Mars and icy moon missions, as well as extreme terrains on Earth.

Entry and Landing Systems

In order for NASA to land more mass, more accurately on planetary bodies, as well as improve capabilities to return spacecraft from low Earth orbit and deep space, the Agency must develop more capable entry, descent, and landing systems, materials, and modeling capabilities. NASA invests in technologies focused on the design, analysis, and testing of advanced materials for thermal protection and aeroshell architectures required for future exploration vehicles and planetary entry missions. Key projects within the Entry, Descent and Landing Systems include:

* Safe and Precised Landing Integrated Capabilities Evolution (SPLICE), a precision landing and hazard avoidance technology, will be infused into future robotic science missions. The project will strive to tie entry uncertainty to a safe & precise landing. By the end of the project, the goal is to reach 200m/s with Line of Sight Velocity and greater than 4 km in Line of Sight Range.

* Heat Shield for Extreme Entry Environment Technology (HEEET) is an advanced thermal protection system that consists of a high-density all-carbon surface layer below which is a lower density layer composed of a blended carbon phenolic yarn which is then infused with a middensity level of phenolic resin. The mass efficiency of HEEET permits exploration and science missions to target much lower entry g-load compared to current state-of-the-art.

* NASA will emphasize technologies to enhance lander technology and improve autonomous precision landing with hazard avoidance on lunar and planetary surfaces. NASA shares these landing capabilities through public-private partnerships with industry through multiple partnership and contract mechanisms.

SOURCES- NASA, Congress, Youtube, BWXT

Written By Brian Wang. Nextbigfuture


Don’t miss the latest future news

Subscribe and get a FREE Ebook