One Variant of Manned Mission to Mars with a Nuclear Electric Propulsion

One Variant of Manned Mission to Mars with a Nuclear Electric Propulsion

M. S. Konstantinov (Research Institute of Applied Mechanics and Electrodynamics, Russia), H. W. Loeb (Giessen University, Germany), V. G. Petukhov (Research Institute of Applied Mechanics and Electrodynamics, Russia) and G. A. Popov (Research Institute of Applied Mechanics and Electrodynamics, Russia)
DOI: 10.4018/ijstmi.2011070101


In this paper, one possible way for implementing a manned mission to Mars is examined. Typical peculiarities of the mission are as follows: the nuclear electric propulsion; relatively low mass of the spacecraft at a low Earth orbit (200 tons) and the crew time in flight is high (900-1000 days). Space mission analysis of the chosen variant is performed. As an optimization criterion, the authors chose the fuel mass required for the flight. Under examined problem definition such mass minimization is equivalent to maximal final mass of the spacecraft and maximal permissible total mass of power and electric propulsion systems. The authors show that to implement the examined manned mission, it is necessary to create the nuclear electric power and electric propulsion systems with a specific mass lower than 12.5 kg/kW under propulsion efficiency of 0.8, specific mass of the system for propellant storage of 0.05 and manned spacecraft complex mass of 52.1 tons. Under propulsion efficiency of 0.7, specific mass of power-propulsion should be lower than 10.9 kg/kW.
Article Preview


The problem whether it is possible to implement a mission to Mars has been investigated for a long time. The first projects related to the problem were developed in 60th of XX century. Detailed analysis of several projects for manned mission to Mars is presented in Koroteev (2006).

We return to this problem since the published projects (Koroteev, 2006; Gorshkov, Akimov, Koroteev, & Semenov, 2009) seems to be too difficult to implement. Three performances examined in the projects: initial mass of the spacecraft at the low Earth orbit, electric power of the on-board nuclear power plant and input power of the electric propulsion are questionable. First of all always the initial mass of the spacecraft (a mass of the spacecraft at low Earth orbit) is assumed to be very high. In the majority of projects its value is about 400—800 tons and more. It is difficult to suppose that such large space complexes can be created at the low Earth orbits for Mars mission in the foreseeable future. In addition, if the nuclear electric propulsion is used, the authors of the projects examine very high powers of the nuclear power plants. As a rule it is assumed that its value is 15000 kW (e.g., in Loeb & Da, 1992, it is accepted that the electric power consumed by the propulsion is 40000 kW). Even if such powers would be generated at the spacecraft, it is difficult to imagine the electric thruster with such powers without revolution achievements. We examine the variant orientated to the nuclear power plant with power of 2000—3000 kW.

The comparative analysis of several variants of manned mission to Mars is presented in Gorshkov et al. (2009). The authors of this work (and the authors of many other projects) make several principal conclusions with which we should agree. The main conclusion is as follows: in the frames of modern concepts on space transportation systems the best is the transportation system on the base of nuclear power plant and electric propulsion. Just such system we examine in the present work.

Complete Article List

Search this Journal:
Volume 3: 2 Issues (2013)
Volume 2: 2 Issues (2012)
Volume 1: 2 Issues (2011)
View Complete Journal Contents Listing