Rocket Engine on Nuclear Fission Fragment for NASA

Positron Dynamics has received a grant from NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) to develop a new type of nuclear fission fragment rocket engine (FFRE) fueled by uranium aerogel.

The nuclear fission fragment engine is not a new concept, its advantages include high specific impulse and extremely high specific power. However, it also has a significant disadvantage – the need to maintain plasma with a strictly directed flow.

Positron Dynamics plans to solve this problem using two new approaches. The first will be placing the fissile material in an ultralight aerogel. The second is the use of a superconducting magnet to contain nuclear fission fragments.

Aircel is an ultra-lightweight material that feels ethereal when held in one’s hands. Embedding fuel particles into it to support a controlled fission chain reaction would be a convenient way to hold the fuel together while still allowing the overall structure to be light enough to lift into orbit.

However, the structure of the airleg will not be able to hold the fragments of nuclear fission. For this, a superconducting magnet is required.

Superconducting magnets are commonly used in experimental fusion reactors to contain plasma needed to heat the fusion fuel and protect engine components from radioactive substances. So using superconducting magnets would allow engineers to direct all the fission debris in one direction, effectively turning it into a thrust vector.

According to Universe Today