MISSION TO MARS: HOW TO GET PEOPLE THERE AND BACK WITH NUCLEAR ENERGY
Vasek Dostal, Knut Gezelius, Jack Horng, John Koser, Joseph E. Palaia, IV,
Eugene Shwageraus, Pete Yarsky
MIT, Cambridge MA
The goal of the design project was to develop supporting nuclear technologies for a near-term manned mission to Mars. Through the application of different nuclear technologies in a series of precursory missions, the reactor and propulsion technologies necessary for a manned mission to Mars are demonstrated before humans are committed to the trip.
As part of the project, the NASA design reference mission was adapted to make use of highly efficient, low mass, nuclear power systems and electric propulsion systems. A scalable space fission reactor and power conversion unit was developed for near-term deployment. A long-life, slow response surface fission reactor was also developed for use with in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) plants on the Martian surface.
The space power system is capable of producing up to 4 MW of DC electric power for a full-power lifetime of 570 days. For a VASIMR engine, 570 full power days (FPD) is equivalent to 3 round trips between Earth and Mars. The molten salt cooled fast reactor (MSFR) core is very compact, and the working fluid reaches very high temperature.
The surface power system produces an average of 200 kWe for more than 25 effective full power years (EFPY). This targeted full power lifetime was chosen to reduce the cost of future Mars missions by allowing for long-term infrastructure to be deployed on the surface. The surface system is a CO2 cooled epithermal conversion reactor (CECR) that is designed for simple control mechanisms, long full power life, and ease of remote operation.