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Mars Courier Mission, Earth-Orbit Escape Burn



Note: The full resolution full size artwork is currently available to my Beta Level and higher patrons. See details on my Patreon page.

Project description and technical notes

Part one of a planned set of illustrations depicting a typical 80-day Mars courier mission involving the use of a radiator gas-core nuclear thermal rocket.

Spacecraft design is derived from the following NASA technical memorandum:

NASA TM X-2772 Link: Reactor Moderator, Pressure Vessel, And Heat Rejection System of An Open-Cycle Gas-Core Nuclear Rocket Concept

NASA TM X-67823 Link: Gas Core Rocket Reactors-A New Look

NASA TM X-67927 Link: Crew Radiation Dose From The Plume of A High Impulse Gas-Core Nuclear Rocket During A Mars Mission

Fast Mars Round Trips

The Mars round-trip mission performance of the radiator-GCNR system is compared to that of several alternative engine concepts in NASA TM X-67823, Fig. 8. Initial mass in Earth orbit (IMEO), a rough measure of initial cost, is plotted against the round-trip mission time. The radiator GCNR is compared to a SCNR (solid core nuclear rocket) and higher mass/lower delta-v GCNR missions and to a theoretical low-thrust/high isp fusion propulsion system.

In "Courier" mode all the available mission time is used for Earth-Mars transits. The 80 day Mars courier mission would require about 3,350 kg of uranium and 670,000 kg of hydrogen. These amount to about 3/4 of the 900,000 kg IMEO.

The radiator gas core rocket is based on NASA TM X-2772, a preliminary design study of a 6,000 megawatt open-cycle gas-core nuclear rocket engine. The engine has a thrust of 196,600 newtons (44,200 Lbs) and a specific impulse of 4400 seconds. The nuclear fuel is enriched uranium-235 and the propellant is hydrogen.

The courier mission spacecraft is comprised of a command module, payload, jettisonable liquid hydrogen tankage, and interconnecting structure. The GCNR provides the four burns required – Earth-orbit escape, Mars-orbit capture, Mars-orbit escape and Earth-orbit capture at mission’s end. The "core" vehicle comprising the GCNR engine, its uranium storage and supply system, the command module, and part of the hydrogen tankage, is recovered in Earth orbit to be refurbished and reused.

The spacecraft departs from and (the core vehicle) returns to a 600 mile apogee parking orbit.

In my extrapolated scenario the Mars 80-day courier mission provides mission support (in the form of regular supply drops and crew rotation) for a protracted surface presence, this might be a manned surface base or a mobile expeditionary party. The Mars lander I’ve designed is an unmanned supply capsule with no ascent stage. The visual look is intended to reflect mission hardware as it might appear if designs had been realized in the immediate post-Apollo era and is influenced by David A. Hardy’s illustrations and my previous work with spacecraft concept drawings provided by Dr. R.C. Parkinson.

Upcoming illustrations will include a Mars courier mission spacecraft diagram and a full set of illustrations depicting all vehicle configuration changes as empty tankage is jettisoned over the course of a courier mission.

Previously I have published a preliminary propulsion bus diagram for a radiator gas core rocket (due for an update, to be posted soon) and two Blender radiation simulations, see links below:

Related Art

The R.A. Heinlein

Open-Cycle Gas-Core Nuclear Thermal Rocket

Mars Courier Mission, Earth-Orbit Escape Burn With Radiator SFX

Mars Courier Mission, Earth-Escape Tank Jettison

Open Cycle Gas Core Nuclear Thermal Rocket

Radiation Design by CG Modeling

Gas Core Rocket New Radiation Simulation


A number of talented individuals contributed to this project through participation in discussions on my G+, special thanks are due to Luke Campbell of PNNL, Winchell Chung of Atomic Rockets, Ron Fischer of Weta Digital, and Dogmatic Pyrrhonist talented designer of KSP mods, and John Reiher author of fine SF and founder of Real Spaceship Designs. 
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© 2016 - 2023 William-Black
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very logical design ..

may one ask what the temperature of the radiators is .. should we not see some glow? or is it completely covered by the ambient light?

final question - do you consider a version of thisp icture with only two point light sources (sun and engine plume)?