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Heavy Lift Nuclear SSTO

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Gas Core Closed Cycle Nuclear Light Bulb SSTO concept vehicle design for my Orion's Arm future history setting, see my journal entry Orion’s Arm Future History, A Synopsis for more information. A Timeline Graph is to be found here: Timeline.

Nuclear SSTO design influence’s were Anthony Tate’s Liberty Ship described here on Winchell Chung’s Atomic Rocket’s website.

In terms of physical vehicle characteristics I used the NASA manned fly-back Booster design as my reference -- omitting the mid-body wing as it would serve no purpose in the native pre-terraformed Martian atmosphere. My inspiration here sprang from an essay on Scott Lowther’s Unwanted Blog, Link: NASA Fly Back Booster.

The resulting launch vehicle stands 460 feet tall. It is launched vertically, powered by eight Gas Core closed-cycle Nuclear Light Bulb engines (with a ninth engine held in reserve). Descent to surface takes advantage of aero-braking and powered return flight to a controlled rolling touch-down at the launch facility of origin.

A launch image is to be found here: Nuclear SSTO Launch.

A powered descent in the Martian atmosphere is not the same thing as flight achieved by generating aerodynamic lift – “flight” in this context means controlling and trimming the vehicles free-fall velocity. Free fall velocity is the free momentum generated by the pull of gravity on the vehicle after its orbital velocity has been cancelled. The spacecraft falls in a ballistic arc, and you can fire the engines as needed to extend the range of that arc. This is not flying by generating lift, it is managing the momentum lent by gravity, extending the range of that ballistic arc, adding and subtracting velocity as needed by firing rockets either in normal mode, or in reverse thrust mode.

My Martian Suborbital VTO/L flies in exactly the same fashion.

The elongated pods seen on the dorsal surface (which are matched by a singular pod on each flank, and three more pods similarly positioned on the vehicles belly) are the aerodynamic housings for (slightly outward angled) reverse-thrust outlets for the vehicles eight Gas Core closed-cycle Nuclear Light Bulb main engines.

The heavy capacity of this design is aimed at de-orbiting and soft landing packages of mined ices returned from Callisto and later from Titan in support of the Martian terraforming program. Other missions include assembling the large scale polar mirror arrays, and assembling and mounting nuclear-pulse magazine fuel stacks (launched via the Martian Nexus heavy booster) on orbit for departing Callisto and Titan mission vehicles. Mission crews fly to orbit aboard the Nuclear SSTO – as the mission vehicles are launched with only a minimum to orbit fuel load and flight crew aboard. The SSTO manages the missions to ferry construction crews to Phobos, carrying out the work of assembling the components delivered there for construction of Mar’s main orbital port complex.

For an example of a Nuclear SSTO mission see my image: Orbital Mirror Assembly.

On my Orion’s Arm Timeline this image falls towards the end of the Martian Frontier era, at the very beginning of the terraforming program. See my journal entry Martian Frontier.

A note of thanks is extended to RobCaswell who reciently featured this work in his journal entry No Fear of Flying.

Related Images:

Nuclear SSTO Launch.

Nuclear SSTO Reverse Thrust.

Gas Core Shutdown 5 Second Glide to Rollout.
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