If you were to blast off to Mars today, it would take you between 7 and 9 months to complete the journey using a conventional spacecraft. Now, it looks as though that travel time could potentially be reduced down to just three months thanks to a Seattle-based company called Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies (USNC-Tech) and its concept for a new Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) engine.
USNC-Tech claims the NTP is safer and more reliable than previous NTP designs, along with being more efficient than a regular chemical rocket. To fuel the concept engine, UNSC-Tech uses a Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM) fuel to power the engine’s reactor. This fuel is based on High-Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU), which is derived from reprocessed civilian nuclear fuel and is enriched to between 5 and 20 percent, meaning it is greater than that of civilian reactors and less than that of naval reactors.
— USNC-Tech (@USNCTech) October 19, 2020
“Key to USNC-Tech’s design is a conscious overlap between terrestrial and space reactor technologies,” says Dr. Paolo Venneri, CEO of USNC-Tech. “This allows us to leverage the advancements in nuclear technology and infrastructure from terrestrial systems and apply them to our space reactors.”
However, one of the challenges that researchers who created the NTP face is to produce a nuclear reactor that is light enough and safe enough for use outside the Earth’s atmosphere – especially if the spacecraft is carrying a crew.