Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies (USNC) is proposing to NASA the concept of a new thermonuclear propulsion (NTP) system. The system is more secure than existing NTP systems, provides “unprecedented high impulse thrust”, and reduces the one-way manned flight to Mars, which is estimated to take about eight months, to about three months. There is a possibility.
NASA is currently working on an Artemis program aimed at ultimately manned flight to Mars, but one-way chemical propulsion rockets used by common space rockets to actually take aviators to Mars. Only fuel can be loaded, and basically even if an aviator can land on Mars, he will not be able to return to Earth unless he sends a separate refueling machine to return fuel to Earth.
Therefore, a promising nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system is promising. Proper use of NTP propulsion technology can provide higher efficiency (specific impulse) than chemical rockets. USNC’s technology uses low-enriched uranium (HALEU) with a concentration of 5 to 20%, which is expected to be used in new-generation nuclear power plants in the United States, and is coated with zirconium carbide (ZrC). It is characterized by using encapsulated fuel.
The FCM fuel is extremely rugged, ensuring the environmental safety of aviators in spacecraft and enabling “intrinsically safe” space-optimized reactor designs, USNC explains. The specific impulse is also twice as high as that of the chemical propulsion system, which gives you the ability to carry more supplies to your destination faster.
USNC-Tech states that this concept technology was “designed for successful short-term demonstrations and lowering the bar for full-scale deployment.”
However, even if the time for one-way manned flight to Mars can be shortened as claimed, it is still uncertain whether astronauts can comfortably spend three months in a spacecraft that is considerably narrower than the ISS and can hardly move around. You may not know until you ask.