From Earth To Mars In As Little As Two Weeks?

7 January 2001

Source: http://rense.com/general6/earthtom.htm
Also: http://cbc.ca/cgi-bin/templates/view.cgi?/news/2001/01/03/fuel010103


After a 200 million kilometer journey in space, a cargo mission nears its rendezvous with the planet Mars.

BEER-SHEVA, ISRAEL - Scientists at Ben-Gurion University have shown that an unusual nuclear fuel could send space vehicles from Earth to Mars in as little as two weeks. Spacecraft now take between eight and 10 months to make the same trip.

The research shows a fairly rare nuclear material, americium-242m (Am-242m), when used as an extremely thin metallic film, is capable of sustaining nuclear fission. When the film is less than a thousandth of a millimetre thick, the high-energy, high-temperature products of fission can escape the fuel and be used for propulsion in space.

Obtaining fission-fragments like this isn't possible with the better-known uranium-235 and plutonium-239 nuclear fuels: they require large fuel rods, which absorb fission products.

Long-time interest

Dr. Yigal Ronen, the author of the study, became interested in nuclear reactors for space vehicles 15 years ago at a conference. Speaker after speaker talked about the use of nuclear reactors for powering space missions - and stressed that the mass of any reactor would be the defining factor. It had to be light in order to be efficient.

So Ronen decided to examine one aspect of reactor design - the nuclear fuel itself. That led him to Am-242m.

By using this element, Ronen was able to cut the amount of fuel necessary to reach maximum power. To achieve the same result as uranium or plutonium requires only one per cent of the amount (mass) when Am-242m is used.

But use of this fuel is still in the very early stages of development. "There are still many hurdles to overcome before americium-242m can be used in space," Ronen says.

Producing large quantities of Am-242m requires several steps and is expensive. Design of the reactor, refuelling, heat removal and safety provisions also need to be examined.

In spite of the hurdles, Ronen remains optimistic about the future of this fuel. "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."

The study was published in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research A (455: 442-451, 2000).


From Science Daily

3 January 2001

Source: Ben-Gurion University Of The Negev (http://www.bgu.ac.il)
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/01/010103073253.htm

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


Comments:

There are several ways of getting nuclear thrust effects. This method uses the energy of the atom fragments as well. In fission-fusion bombs special beryllium-copper mirrors direct these fission products, X-rays, neutrons, and etc. down beam channels to fire the secondary system.

In the ORNL fireball type reactor much of the relativistic energy is released as well, in the form of neutrons, x-rays, and gamma rays. Similarly, these emissions can be reflected using mirrors from omnidirection emissions into directed emissions. The net effect is similar to ion drive system, except vastly more powerful. Other research uses LASER directed energy onto mirrors to make levitation.

One of the most collosal dreams was "project orion" that intended to use pulsed nuke bombs to loft huge ships into orbit and space. Other nuke engines use rocket fuel and nuke combinations.

Since most of these techniques use relativistic emissions, the net velocity approaches the speed of light.

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