Bimodal Nuclear Propulsion

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Recently, as part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program for 2023, NASA selected a bimodal nuclear propulsion concept for Phase I development which could reduce transit times to Mars to just 45 days.

About Bimodal nuclear propulsion 

  • Bimodal nuclear propulsion is a two-part system that includes; Nuclear Thermal and Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NTP /NEP).
  • It uses a wave rotor topping cycle. 

How will nuclear propulsion work?

  • The Nuclear Thermal system includes a nuclear reactor that will heat liquid hydrogen (LH2) propellant and turn it into ionised hydrogen gas (plasma) that will then be channelled through a nozzle to generate thrust.
  • Nuclear Electric Propulsion depends on a nuclear reactor to provide electricity to a Hall-Effect thruster (ion engine), which will generate an electromagnetic field that will ionise and accelerate an inert gas to create thrust.
  • Advantages: Fuel efficiency, a higher specific impulse, rating and unlimited energy density.


Q1) What is Nuclear Energy?

Nuclear energy is a form of energy released from the nucleus, the core of atoms, made up of protons and neutrons. This source of energy can be produced in two ways: fission – when nuclei of atoms split into several parts – or fusion – when nuclei fuse. 

Source: Explained: How nuclear-powered rockets can send missions to Mars in 45 days