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Solid-State Thermionic Nuclear Power for Megawatt Propulsion, Planetary Surface and Commercial Power Project

Metadata Updated: December 6, 2023

<p>Thermionic (TI) power conversion is a promising technology first investigated for power conversion in the 1960&rsquo;s, and of renewed interest due to modern advances in nanotechnology, MEMS, materials and manufacturing. Benefits include high conversion efficiency (20%), static operation with no moving parts and the potential for high reliability, greatly reduced plant complexity, and the potential for low Design, Development. Test and Evaluation (DDT&amp;E) costs. Thermionic emission, credited to Edison in 1880, forms the basis of vacuum tubes and much of 20th century electronics. Heat can be converted into electricity when electrons emitted from a hot surface are collected across a small gap. For example, two &ldquo;small&rdquo; (6 kWe) Thermionic Space Reactors were flown by the USSR in 1987-88 for ocean radar reconnaissance. Higher powered Nuclear-Thermionic power systems driving Electric Propulsion (Q-thruster, VASIMR, etc.) may offer the breakthrough necessary for human Mars missions of &lt; 1 yr round trip.</p><p>This project targets one of the most critical barriers to human deep space exploration &ndash; the means to efficiently power and rapidly propel human missions to Mars and beyond.&nbsp; The project will explore the implementation of a high efficiency &ldquo;Solid-State&rdquo; Thermionic-based nuclear fission power systems to serve Electric Propulsion systems such as Q-thrusters, VASIMR, Hall, or other approaches.&nbsp; A Solid-State approach centered around advanced Thermionic power converters would combine the high efficiency of traditional dynamic power conversion (Rankine, Brayton, Stirling) with the simplicity of a static converter with no moving parts.&nbsp; The resulting system could enable Human Mars missions of &lt; 1 year round trip by affording a system of megawatt power, low specific mass (&lt;10 kg/kWe), greatly reduced plant complexity, and associated savings in development cost.&nbsp;&nbsp; This project provides the initial foundation and confidence for high efficiency solid-state power converters, and early definition of enabled human exploration systems and missions (ex. Megawatt Electric Propulsion, Moon/Mars Surface Power).&nbsp; Subsequent converter development will improve readiness and lifetime, leading to &ldquo;flight ready&rdquo; articles.&nbsp; An intermediate NASA infusion step would demonstrate kilowatt-class nuclear power systems applicable to Moon or Mars surface.&nbsp; Human vehicle system development would then integrate these converters with DOE nuclear reactor technology, NASA balance of plant (ex. radiators, PMAD), and electric propulsion (ex. Q-thrusters, VASIMR, Hall thrusters) to develop an &ldquo;ultimate&rdquo; NASA application of a Human Mars Megawatt-class Nuclear Electric Propulsion vehicle and mission.&nbsp; Terrestrial applications would be informed/infused resulting in high efficiency power systems with greatly reduced complexity and cost.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

Access & Use Information

Public: This dataset is intended for public access and use. License: No license information was provided. If this work was prepared by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of that person's official duties it is considered a U.S. Government Work.

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Metadata Created Date November 12, 2020
Metadata Updated Date December 6, 2023

Metadata Source

Harvested from NASA Data.json

Additional Metadata

Resource Type Dataset
Metadata Created Date November 12, 2020
Metadata Updated Date December 6, 2023
Publisher Space Technology Mission Directorate
Identifier TECHPORT_13761
Data First Published 2013-12-01
Data Last Modified 2020-01-29
Public Access Level public
Bureau Code 026:00
Metadata Context
Metadata Catalog ID
Schema Version
Catalog Describedby
Harvest Object Id c8403d1a-5b1a-49ca-b3dd-972225b434d6
Harvest Source Id 58f92550-7a01-4f00-b1b2-8dc953bd598f
Harvest Source Title NASA Data.json
Homepage URL
Program Code 026:000
Related Documents,,,,,,,
Source Datajson Identifier True
Source Hash fce8307d5bd8dbc22ceec224d6cdcc75951928ac1ee062e4837456e4624a159d
Source Schema Version 1.1
Temporal 2013-12-01T00:00:00Z/2014-12-01T00:00:00Z

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