A Coupled Approach to the Design Space Exploration of Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Systems

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Petitgenet, Victor L.
Roper, Christopher D.
Shalat, David
Yatsko, Andrew J.
Krecicki, Matt
Kotlyar, Dan
Mavris, Dimitri N.
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Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) is identified as one of the preferred propulsion technologies for future manned missions to Mars and other interplanetary destinations. NTP systems can improve the returns and mitigate the risks of such missions by reducing travel time and improving payload capacity as compared to traditional chemical propulsion systems. Due to the complexity and tightly coupled nature of the nuclear reactor and surrounding NTP subsystems, the traditional decoupled approach to NTP system analysis is inadequate. A new approach is needed to enable a high-fidelity design space exploration exercise for NTP systems. The approach outlined in this paper will address an integrated model of the reactor and supporting subsystems. This model, along with the incorporation of Design of Experiments and Surrogate Modeling, will allow for the exploration of the performance of a large number of NTP system designs with respect to metrics such as specific impulse and thrust to weight ratio. The subsystems analysis is handled by Numerical Propulsion Systems Simulation (NPSS) while reactor modeling is conducted using various numerical codes. This paper proposes and demonstrates a coupled design space exploration approach for NTP systems and uses these findings to consider vehicle-level implications.
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