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Ohio State launches nuclear propulsion research collaboration focused on space flight

At the American Astronautical Society’s John H. Glenn Memorial Symposium in Cleveland, The Ohio State University College of Engineering and a subsidiary of BWX Technologies, Inc. (BWXT) announced a joint interdisciplinary research effort to advance nuclear thermal propulsion for space flight missions.

Nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) offers the potential to significantly reduce travel time for spacecraft, especially for deep-space destinations in the solar system at distances of Mars and beyond. Additionally, the significant power and specific impulse improvements will enable new and innovative flight trajectories, and eventually reduce the time astronauts are exposed to harmful cosmic radiation while transiting in deep space.

BWXT is a leading supplier of nuclear components and fuel to the U.S. government, and is currently working for NASA under contract to reduce risk for NTP development as well as conduct a mission study for a potential flight demonstration.

Photo of two men shaking hands and looking at the camera.Dean Williams (left) and BWXT President of Advanced Technology Programs Jonathan CirtainOhio State’s world-class materials science capabilities, robust data analytics expertise and its own nuclear reactor laboratory complement BWXT’s applied science leadership in nuclear propulsion to help meet the nation’s future space flight needs.

“The Ohio State University is a leader in research partnerships with industry and performing critical research in the national interest,” said College of Engineering Dean David B. Williams. “We work closely with NASA’s two primary centers focused on nuclear applications for space, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. We are excited to build this collaboration to help further space exploration and greatly reduce travel times to a range of key destinations in deep space.”

The College of Engineering’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence soon will embark upon the construction of a working NTP scale-model rocket engine using non-nuclear power sources and significant advances in additive manufacturing.

“We are extremely pleased to work with The Ohio State University to advance nuclear thermal propulsion technology,” said BWXT President and Chief Executive Officer Rex Geveden. “Projects like this create an interesting intersection between student development and our business ambitions in this promising technology for the space market.”

Student involvement will be emphasized in Ohio State’s support of BWXT’s NTP program, and will be enriched further through the university’s role as one of six members of the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory National University Consortium. This summer, Ohio State engineering graduate students are already interning at BWXT’s Lynchburg offices and at Marshall’s nuclear propulsion research laboratories, respectively. Several mechanical and aerospace engineering capstone projects focused on NTP in the past academic year, and more are planned for the future.

Later this year, Ohio State and BWXT also will host a dedicated research conference focused on the interdisciplinary aspects of nuclear thermal propulsion. Coordinated by the university’s Battelle Center for Science, Engineering, and Public Policy in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, the conference will convene global technical, policy, and administrative leaders and help focus specific areas of research.

Article republished from the College of Engineering.