Recent US initiatives in Nuclear Propulsion lend themselves naturally to raising the question of the assessment of various options and particularly to propose the High Power Electric Propulsion Subsystem (HPEPS) for the Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NEP). The purpose of this paper is to present the guidelines for the HPEPS with respect to the mission to Mars, for automatic probes as well as for manned missions. Among the various options, the technological options and the trajectory options are pointed out. The consequences of the increase of the electrical power of a thruster are first an increase of the thrust itself, but also, as a general rule, an increase of the thruster performance due to its higher efficiency, particularly its specific impulse increase. The drawback is as a first parameter, the increase of the thruster’s size, hence the so‐called “thrust density” shall be high enough or shall be drastically increased for ions thrusters. Due to the large mass of gas needed to perform the foreseen missions, the classical xenon rare gas is no more in competition, the total world production being limited to 20 –40 tons per year. Thus, the right selection of the propellant feeding the thruster is of prime importance. When choosing a propellant with lower molecular mass, the consequences at thruster level are an increase once more of the specific impulse, but at system level the dead mass may increase too, mainly because the increase of the mass of the propellant system tanks. Other alternatives, in rupture with respect to the current technologies, are presented in order to make the whole system more attractive. The paper presents a discussion on the thruster specific impulse increase that is sometime considered an increase of the main system performances parameter, but that induces for all electric propulsion systems drawbacks in the system power and mass design that are proportional to the thruster specific power increase (kW/N). The electric thruster specific impulse shall be optimized w.r.t. the mission. The trajectories taken into account in the paper are constrained by the allowable duration of the travel and the launcher size. The multi‐arcs trajectories to Mars (using an optimized combination of chemical and Electric propulsion) are presented in detail. The compatibility with NEP systems that implies orbiting a sizeable nuclear reactor and a power generation system capable of converting thermal into electric power, with minimum mass and volumes fitting in with Ariane 5 or the Space Shuttle bay, is assessed.
High Power Electric Propulsion System for NEP: Propulsion and Trajectory Options
Christophe R. Koppel, Olivier Duchemin, Dominique Valentian; High Power Electric Propulsion System for NEP: Propulsion and Trajectory Options. AIP Conf. Proc. 20 January 2006; 813 (1): 484–493. https://doi.org/10.1063/1.2169226
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