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Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP)

Since 1955, space nuclear systems solutions have promised substantial advantages for both cislunar and deep-space mission architectures. Reduction in crew transit times - which result in decreased exposure to radiation, microgravity, and the general, inherent danger of space travel -  and increased flight safety margins - which allow for mission abort capabilities well into a mission’s duration - are just two of those benefits. 

Interest is growing in long-duration exploration of the Moon and eventual human travel to Mars. Space reactor technology maturity and advances in the manufacturing of relevant materials, computational modeling, the simulation of coupled systems, and supporting technologies, such as cryogenic fluid management, are all key to delivering an operational reactor within the decade.

BWXT Advanced Technologies LLC (BWXT AT) has been involved with NASA and the Department of Energy’s groundbreaking NTP design. We’ve been performing manufacturing development and testing since 2017. 

BWXT AT’s focus has been on nuclear fuel design and engineering activities. As part of this program, BWXT AT has produced fuel kernels, coatings, design materials and manufacturing processes for fuel assemblies and conceptual reactor design efforts.

In 2020, as part of NASA’s in-space demonstration mission, BWXT AT completed a study exploring several reactor configurations and fuel forms capable of delivering space nuclear propulsion. Two of the designs focused on rocket thrust and reactor power levels suitable for space demonstration in the near term. A third design leveraged more advanced technology, higher fuel temperatures, and higher specific impulse levels, all of which could be ready in time for a Mars mission. 

AT continues to support NASA’s space nuclear propulsion work through ongoing contracts.