Fission Powered Lunar Lander

Settlements on the moon, for mining and scientific research, will require routine travel between lunar orbit and the lunar surface. One idea is to use a lunar shuttle with a nuclear fission rocket engine. The hydrogen fuel would come from water on the moon. Fission rockets have twice the specific impulse of the best chemical rockets leading to low fuel consumption. In addition, they would leave the oxygen from the electrolysis of water available for the lunar settlements.

Stanley Borowski of NASA/GRC is co-author of a paper giving the status of nuclear fission rockets:

NTR Technology Development and Key Activities Supporting a Human Mars Mission in the Early-2030 Timeframe

Fission rockets were developed in the 1970’s but the technology was never tested in flight. We used his paper to create a fission rocket. A 3D model based on a drawing the paper is shown below:


We built the launch vehicle using a single script in the Spacecraft Control Toolbox for MATLAB:

Spacecraft Control Toolbox 2015.1

The script uses a bilinear tangent steering law to estimate the required two way delta-v. The lander flies to 12 km where it meets a freighter. The crew is housed in an Orion spacecraft. The vehicle is shown below:


The landing legs are based on the Apollo Lunar Module. The liquid hydrogen is stored in the 4 spherical tanks. The nuclear thermal engine is hidden by the box to which the legs are attached. The lander lifts the Orion spacecraft and 6000 kg more of payload which would include helium-3 mined on the moon.

The Orion model was created by Amazing3DGraphics. Amazing3D is really good at creating low polygon count models that are useful for simulation and disturbance modeling.

The script and new supporting functions will be available as part of SCT Release v2015.2.

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About Michael Paluszek

Michael Paluszek is President of Princeton Satellite Systems. He graduated from MIT with a degree in electrical engineering in 1976 and followed that with an Engineer's degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT in 1979. He worked at MIT for a year as a research engineer then worked at Draper Laboratory for 6 years on GN&C for human space missions. He worked at GE Astro Space from 1986 to 1992 on a variety of satellite projects including GPS IIR, Inmarsat 3 and Mars Observer. In 1992 he founded Princeton Satellite Systems.

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