They were developed more than 40 years ago and then almost forgotten but now Nuclear Rockets are set to make a comeback and possibly provide the fastest way to get around our solar system to date. Here look at their history and how they could be used in the next decade or so.
image/text credit: Curious Droid
Unlike conventional rockets that burn fuel to create thrust, the atomic system uses the reactor to heat a propellant like liquid hydrogen, which then expands through a nozzle to power the craft.
In a nuclear thermal rocket a working fluid, usually liquid hydrogen, is heated to a high temperature in a nuclear reactor, and then expands through a rocket nozzle to create thrust. In this kind of thermal rocket, the nuclear reactor’s energy replaces the chemical energy of the propellant’s reactive chemicals in a chemical rocket.
That doubles the efficiency at which the rocket uses fuel, allowing for a “drastically smaller” craft and shorter transit time, said Stephen Heister, a professor at Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “This factor is absolutely huge, especially for very difficult missions that necessitate a lot of propellant such as a Mars flight.”