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Uranium ARC Fission Reactor for Space Power and Propulsion

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Combining the proven technology of solid core reactors with uranium arc confinement and non-equilibrium dissociation and ionization by fission fragments can lead to an attractive power and propulsion system. The benefit ensues from using the high quality directed energy of fission fragments and associated radiation to obtain working fluidpropellant dissociation and ionization directly, without first degrading the energy to heat. The dissociation and ionization energies can be utilized in a nozzle, thruster or MHD acceleratorgenerator. Uranium arc technology is being developed for use in space nuclear thermal and electric propulsion reactors. In the Uranium Arc Fission Reactor, arcs are driven mainly by fission energy and require little electrical energy input. The arcs operate at 10,000 K, and transfer energy to the propellant or working fluid via optical radiation, thus avoiding material temperature limitations. The result is a propulsion afterburner that can elevate fluid temperatures to levels above the melting point of any material above 4,000 K. This enables very high specific impulse propulsion or ultrahigh temperature power conversion. The experimental results indicate the fundamental feasibility of uranium arc driven energy transfer. For thermal propulsion, increased temperatures mean higher specific impulse. For space power platforms, the resultant improved efficiency means reduced and easier waste heat rejection and thus a more compact, lower mass reactor design. A more efficient thruster also results in lower power requirements or reduced radiator area and thus mass. The technology is also applicable for more efficient and safer ground based electric power generation. A spinoff development is the technology for handling uranium and its compounds in liquid and vapor forms. This technology will be required in advanced Gas and Vapor Core Reactors.

Subject Categories:

  • Nuclear Fission Reactors (Power)
  • Nuclear Propulsion
  • Unmanned Spacecraft

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