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New Fuel Fabrication Methods Advancing Nuclear Thermal Rocket

Nuclear power has been considered for space applications since the 1960s. Between 1955 and 1972 the US built and tested over twenty nuclear reactors/ rocket-engines in the Rover/NERVA programs. However, changes in environmental laws may make the redevelopment of the nuclear rocket more difficult. Recent advances in fuel fabrication and testing options indicate that a nuclear rocket with a fuel form significantly different from NERVA may be needed to ensure public support. USRA scientists at the Center for Space Nuclear Research (CSNR) are pursuing development of tungsten based fuels for use in a NTR, for a surface power reactor, and to encapsulate radioisotope power sources. As a precursor to nuclear rocket fuel element fabrication, USRA scientists are fabricating tungsten-rhenium cerment samples using the Spark Plasma Sintering furnance in the Idaho National Laboratory. Currently, USRA scientists at the CSNR are starting participation in a NASA funded program to design, test, and build a NTR. The CSNR Summer Fellows program has investigated the feasibility of several missions enabled by the NTR.