As future U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) missions aim for destinations farther out into the solar system, space nuclear propulsion (SNP), and in particular nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP), is the only feasible near-term technology able to provide specific impulses of 900 s or greater and thrust in the range of tens of thousands of pounds. To maximize the success of the SNP program as a whole, a Fuel and Moderator Development Plan (FMDP) was created to mature mission critical technology, such as the reactor fuel form and moderator material. This technical note details the conceptual testing reference design that provides the basis for the FMDP for future design and testing activities to meet NASA’s goals.

Through this work BWX Technologies, Inc. and its subsidiaries, referred to as BWXT, continue to be an integral part of government space nuclear programs and has historically been a part of major design, manufacturing, and testing developments. As an example, during the 1990s BWXT supported fuel development for the Space NTP (SNTP) program, an advanced technology development effort aimed at providing the nation with a new and dramatically higher performing rocket engine that would more than double the performance of the best conventional chemical rocket engines. Since 2017, BWXT has been participating in the NASA SNP program for the low-enrichment uranium NTP rocket engine as part of its Game Changing Development feasibility conceptual design program and now more recently Technology Demonstration Mission.