The Copernicus – B dream: going round trip between Earth to Mars


12 March 2020

2 minutes

The most interesting and advanced concept for transportation of men from Earth to Mars (and back, hopefully) is the Copernicus – B. And why it is interesting? Because it is doable. This concept was conceived by NASA. Preliminarily, it was named the von Braum. It was supposed to be assembled in orbit with the aid of the Space Shuttle. It would take seven (7) months for a round trip to Mars and back. And that is possible because of its Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTR) System also known as BIMODAL NTR. It is BIMODAL because it may operates as an open system pushing hydrogen through a nuclear core, heating it up and eventually expanding this hot hydrogen in a nozzle, generating propulsion. Eventually, this reactor may operate in a closed circuit generating electric energy for ship systems, hence, bimodal. This mission originally was designed for the window between Earth and Mars that occurred between 2016 and 2018. That is necessary because three ships are used. Two ships are cargo missions unmanned and supposedly going in 2016. And then the 2018 mission with 6-8 crew members. Each of the three ships would use three Nuclear Thermal Propulsion engines. This would require nine (9) reactors available for the ships, and a few more to guarantee that the actual 9 reactors would function properly in space.

Unfortunately, that never happened, the Space Shuttle is no more and the Bimodal NTR is not being developed. But the concept is sound! And it has been adapted for the Copernicus. The three ships idea stands. The first two ships will carry all the equipment that the crew will need to a 30 days mission on Mars, plus the return to orbit equipment. The new design seams to carry two Orion modules. The Copernicus still will need nine BIMODAL NTRs though, plus the extra reactors for testing. It is interesting to know that most of the NTR technology was develop by NASA in the 60´s (of last century) in a project called NERVA. There are still more developments to be performed for the BIMODAL NTR technology and the conditions for this development have changed a bit. That means adding in cost. In any case that seems to be postponed now, as the focus shifted to automatic nuclear propulsion space ships with micro nuclear reactors. The Copernicus concept is still indeed interesting!
Written by
Lamartine Guimarães

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