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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Pratt & Whitney Develops New Nuclear Rocket

NERVA Rocket
NERVA Rocket
Credit: NASA
It is being widely reported that Pratt & Whitney, the giant engine manufacturer that specializes in commercial and military engines for aircraft and space systems, has developed a design for an advanced nuclear fission rocket. Named Triton, it has solved many engineering problems that plagued earlier concepts, and would be capable of anywhere from 30 hours of continuous operation to several years, depending on the expected output. It pollutes less, is more safe, and is much cheaper than earlier rocket designs, such as the famous NERVA program of the 1960s.

Pratt & Whitney estimates that it would cost approximately $600 million to $1 billion to get a working engine. When spread over the design period of any conceivable mission that this would be involved in, that amounts to much, much less than previously thought. With such an engine, astronauts could make regular trips on reusable vehicles to and from Mars, which much less time than with conventional systems. This would lead to more useful work being done, less risks to the crew, and cheaper spacecraft. This, combined with NASA's Project Prometheus, could allow sustained, profitable colonization of Mars. There is no word from NASA yet on whether such a system will be included in future missions.

(More info: NuclearSpace, Red Colony)

- posted by Brian @ 21:57 EST