Center for Space Nuclear Research (CSNR) Fellowship Program

posted Feb 8, 2010, 3:11 PM by Chris Rogers

Research Area(s):
Aeronautics, Astronomy & Astrophysics, Materials, Power & Propulsion, Spacecraft Design, Systems Engineering

The Center for Space Nuclear Research (CSNR) Fellowship Program will assemble a team of students each year to address critical issues in the use of nuclear technologies for space exploration.

Summer 2010 topics:

Support of the Space Power Systems and Radioisotope Driven Hoppers

Program Objectives:

• Undergraduate and graduate students experience cutting-edge research in nuclear power and propulsion technologies

• Fellow will work as a team using INL staff mentors as necessary

• Gain experience making oral presentations of interim results

• Provide a summary of results to NASA and to DOE/INL management

Areas of Research:

1. Design of a high performance, high-power nuclear reactor for advanced space propulsion: High power electric propulsion offers the potential for rapid transits to Mars. The primary obstacles are 1) the inefficiency of the system with regards to producing thrust and 2) the mass of the power conversion system. The goal of this study is to identify reactor types, power conversion methods, and radiator designs that will enable nuclear electric propulsion to be an attractive option. Concepts with the potential for providing > 20 MWe at a specific mass < 5 kg/kWe will be considered. Potential concepts must also have adequate lifetime for powering extremely high power outposts or high power, high performance nuclear electric propulsion systems. The deliverable for this study will be an annotated final presentation.

2. Design of a steady-state and/or pulsed, low-power system for operation on the lunar surface or in low Earth orbit: Power demands on the lunar surface or for maintaining satellites in low Earth orbit may not require continuous operation. By allowing pulsed mode operation, new designs for low power systems are possible. The project will examine systems optimized for providing a few kilowatts of electric power for surface or deep space missions. A wide range of power conversion and heat transport options will be considered. Proposed systems will be compared to potential radioisotope options, with a range of assumptions related to the resumption of Pu-238 production. Potential missions may also be assessed. The deliverable for this study will be an annotated final presentation.

3. Feasibility studies:

a. Design Hoppers for Titan, Europa, and Venus: The CSNR is pursuing the design of a platform that can “hop” on Mars. Every 1-2 days the craft will jump between 15-20 km. Science data will be acquired during the downtime. This project will examine the feasibility of extending the Hopper technology to other missions. The impact on the basic design due to the unique environments offered by Titan, Europa, and Venus will be assessed. The deliverable for this study will be an annotated final presentation.

b. Assess feasibility of using the radioisotope-driven, pulsed-power technology to propel a three stage rocket off of the Mars surface and into orbit. Determine mass of the stages, mass of the isotope, and necessary specific impulse to take a 10 kg payload into orbit.

Eligibility and Criteria:

Up to 15 positions* are available for summer 2010. Of these, 5 positions will be considered for undergraduates with more than 50 credit hours. Foreign national students will be considered but they must be enrolled in a US based university

Selection will be based on the following criteria

• Scholarship, curriculum and experience

• Career objectives and scientific interest

• Match of interest of applicant with research available

* Funding for the Summer Fellowship program has not yet been finalized. The number of students ultimately selected will depend on the final funding level to the CSNR.

Financial Support:

The program will last approximately 10 weeks (May 2010-August 2010)

Stipends of $500, $600, and $700 per week for undergraduate, masters, and PhD level students will be awarded to cover living expenses

• Housing located in Idaho Falls, ID is provided

• A maximum of $1000 for travel expenses will also be included

The application form can be downloaded from:

USRA Point of Contact:
Kristi Martin 
Center for Space Nuclear Research 
995 University Blvd. 
Idaho Falls, ID 83415-3553