Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Extremely Efficient Nuclear Fuel Could Take Man To Mars In Just Two Weeks

Date:
January 3, 2001
Source:
Ben-Gurion University Of The Negev
Summary:
Scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have shown that an unusual nuclear fuel could speed space vehicles from Earth to Mars in as little as two weeks. Standard chemical propulsion used in existing spacecraft currently takes from between eight to ten months to make the same trip.

Beer-Sheva, December 28, 2000 - Scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have shown that an unusual nuclear fuel could speed space vehicles from Earth to Mars in as little as two weeks. Standard chemical propulsion used in existing spacecraft currently takes from between eight to ten months to make the same trip. Calculations supporting this conclusion were reported in this month's issue of Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research A (455: 442-451, 2000) by Prof. Yigal Ronen, of BGU's Department of Nuclear Engineering and graduate student Eugene Shwagerous.

In the article, the researchers demonstrate that the fairly rare nuclear material americium-242m (Am-242m) can maintain sustained nuclear fission as an extremely thin metallic film, less than a thousandth of a millimeter thick. In this form, the extremely high-energy, high-temperature fission products can escape the fuel elements and be used for propulsion in space. Obtaining fission-fragments is not possible with the better-known uranium-235 and plutonium-239 nuclear fuels: they require large fuel rods, which absorb fission products.

Ronen became interested in nuclear reactors for space vehicles some 15 years ago at a conference dedicated to this subject. Speaker-after-speaker stressed that whatever the approach, the mass (weight) of the reactor had to be as light as possible for efficient space travel. At a more recent meeting, Prof. Carlo Rubbia of CERN (Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1984) brought up the novel concept of utilizing the highly energetic fragments produced by nuclear fission to heat a gas; the extremely high temperatures produced would enable faster interplanetary travel.

To meet the challenge of a light nuclear reactor, Ronen examined one element of reactor design, the nuclear fuel itself. He found at the time that of the known fission fuels, Am-242m is the front-runner, requiring only 1 percent of the mass (or weight) of uranium or plutonium to reach its critical state. The recent study examined various theoretical structures for positioning Am-242m metal and control materials for space reactors. He determined that this fuel could indeed sustain fission in the form of thin films that release high-energy fission products. Moreover, he showed how these fission products could be used themselves as a propellant, or to heat a gas for propulsion, or to fuel a special generator that produces electricity.

"There are still many hurtles to overcome before americium-242m can be used in space," Ronen says. "There is the problem of producing the fuel in large enough quantities from plutonium-241 and americium-241, which requires several steps and is expensive. But the material is already available in fairly small amounts. In addition, actual reactor design, refueling, heat removal, and safety provisions for manned vehicles have not yet been examined.

"However, I am sure that americium-242m will eventually be implemented for space travel, as it is the only proven material whose fission products can be made available for high speed propulsion. Indeed, Carlo Rubbia has also recognized that this is the most probable fuel that will be getting us to Mars and back. I think that we are now far enough advanced to interest international space programs in taking a closer look at americium-based space vehicles."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ben-Gurion University Of The Negev. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Ben-Gurion University Of The Negev. "Extremely Efficient Nuclear Fuel Could Take Man To Mars In Just Two Weeks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 January 2001. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/01/010103073253.htm>.
Ben-Gurion University Of The Negev. (2001, January 3). Extremely Efficient Nuclear Fuel Could Take Man To Mars In Just Two Weeks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/01/010103073253.htm
Ben-Gurion University Of The Negev. "Extremely Efficient Nuclear Fuel Could Take Man To Mars In Just Two Weeks." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/01/010103073253.htm (accessed September 19, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Friday, September 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Virtual Reality Headsets Unveiled at Tokyo Game Show

Virtual Reality Headsets Unveiled at Tokyo Game Show

AFP (Sep. 18, 2014) Several companies unveiled virtual reality headsets at the Tokyo Game Show, Asia's largest digital entertainment exhibition. Duration: 00:48 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Apple's iOS8 Includes New 'Killswitch' To Curb Theft

Apple's iOS8 Includes New 'Killswitch' To Curb Theft

Newsy (Sep. 18, 2014) Apple's new operating system, iOS 8, comes with Apple's killswitch feature already activated, unlike all the models before it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stocks Hit All-Time High as Fed Holds Steady

Stocks Hit All-Time High as Fed Holds Steady

AP (Sep. 17, 2014) The Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday that it plans to keep a key interest rate at a record low because a broad range of U.S. economic measures remain subpar. Stocks hit an all-time high on the news. (Sept. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 16, 2014) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' startup will team up with Boeing and Lockheed to develop rocket engines as Elon Musk races to have his rockets certified. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins