NASA officials updated on nuclear thermal propulsion

10 October 2018

BWX Technologies, Inc yesterday hosted officials from NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) for progress updates and technology demonstrations related to BWXT’s nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) programme.

NASA's Jim Reuter takes questions from the media during his visit to BWXT's Lynchburg laboratory (Image: BWXT)

The reactor could be part of an NTP rocket engine designed to propel a spacecraft from Earth orbit to Mars and back.

Jim Reuter, NASA's acting associate administrator of STMD, toured BWXT's Advanced Technology Lab in Lynchburg, Virginia to learn more about BWXT's progress on the programme that could support a future crewed mission to Mars.

Reuter watched demonstrations of three key technologies that BWXT has been developing to support the NTP program: advanced welding; metallography; and fuel element filling.

Rex Geveden, BWXT president and CEO, said, "We believe that NTP is an ideal propulsion system to take humans to Mars, and our scientists and engineers are working every day to make that a reality."

BWXT, whose reactor design is based on low-enriched uranium fuel, said NTP for spaceflight has advantages over chemical-based designs, primarily providing higher efficiency and greater power density. This would contribute, it said, to shorter travel times and lower exposure to cosmic radiation for astronauts.

BWXT announced last year it had been awarded a USD18.8 million contract from NASA for initial reactor concept development, initial fuel and core fabrication development, licensing support, and engine test programme development.

During this three-year contract, the company will manufacture and test prototype fuel elements and also help NASA properly address and resolve nuclear licensing and regulatory requirements. BWXT will aid NASA in refining the feasibility and affordability of developing an NTP engine, delivering the technical and programmatic data needed to determine how to implement this promising technology in years to come.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News