Copyright © 2011 by Michael R. Williams. Published by the Mars Society with permission.
Blueprint For NTR Ground Test Facilities
R. Williams, Fellow Engineer, PMP, MBA
Savannah River National Laboratory
PO Box 616
Aiken, SC 29808 USA
DOE Nuclear Thermal Rocket Test Facilities developed by Rocketdyne and Westinghouse have not been used to support nuclear propulsion testing since the Rover/NERVA programs of the 1960Ős and no longer meet DOE nuclear facility requirements. Unlike the Rover/NERVA programs, DOE Ground Test facilities for space exploration enabling nuclear technologies can no longer be vented to the open atmosphere and require extensive gas treatment as well as treatment and immobilization of all nuclear waste generated. The best choice of DOE/NASA/commercial test facilities and accompanying modifications for confinement and treatment of exhaust gases and nuclear waste will permit safe testing of NASA Nuclear Propulsion and Power devices involving variable size and source nuclear engines enabling Space Exploration Missions with minimal cost, schedule and environmental impact. Suitable nuclear rocket Ground Test Facilities are critical to enable large scale Space Exploration Missions beyond the moon and Mars. Facilities include those for un-irradiated fuel materials tests, fuels and materials hot hydrogen flow tests including those needed for turbopump development, nozzle development, altitude simulation for full-scale nozzle demonstration, technology validation and propellant management, such as the Nuclear Propulsion and Power Non-Nuclear (NP2N) facility proposed by SRNL to Support NASA Stennis. DOE fuel and material irradiation test facilities will be required. Fuel element test loops such as the ATR high temperature gas test loop will be required. Low Power Critical Test Facilities will be required. A prototypic fuel element test reactor of NTR configuration will be required. An NTR reactor test facility with robust decontamination and examination capabilities is needed. An NTR Engine Ground Test Facility will be required for system verification and engine flight qualification. Post-Irradiation Examination (PIE) facilities and component test facilities are also required.