The biggest goal of NASA and private space companies is to land humans on Mars. But even just going to the Red Planet takes a very long time. The new engine will reduce this time considerably.
Even in the best scenario, going to Mars with the space vehicles and technologies we have requires a travel time of about 6 months. In orbital conditions where Mars is farther from Earth, this time can increase much more. However, NASA’s nuclear engine project could reduce this time to 45 days.
Mars Journeys May Decrease to 45 Days
Using current technologies, a crewed Mars journey is estimated to take about six to nine months to reach the red planet. So, reducing the travel time to about 45 days means missions to Mars could take months instead of years. Reducing travel time will reduce the impact of potentially deadly high levels of radiation to which astronauts will be exposed on missions to Mars.
NASA has selected a nuclear propulsion concept as part of its NIAC (Innovative Advanced Concepts) program for 2023. It has been announced that the journey to Mars for manned missions can be reduced to 45 days thanks to a brand new propulsion system created using a “wave rotor” in the propulsion system called the Nuclear Thermal and Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NTP/NEP) concept. The name behind the project, University of Florida Prof. Ryan Gosse believes that thanks to this technology, Mars travel times will be greatly reduced and manned missions will be sustainable.
The merging of two fundamental concepts lies behind NASA’s new nuclear propulsion concept. The first concept is the propulsion system already used in manned spacecraft, while the second is the Nuclear-Electric Propulsion (NEP) system, which uses a nuclear reactor to electrically power the ion engine and creates an electromagnetic field by ionizing and accelerating the gas to generate thrust.
prof. Ryan Gosse combines these two techniques, combining their advantages. This bimodal design can generate twice the power of current chemical rockets. On top of that, Gosse proposes the use of a Wave Rotor (WR), taking advantage of the nuclear reactor’s heating of liquid hydrogen fuel. This creates a high thrust, increasing the potential power even more.