January 23, 2012

Project Bifrost is a new study of nuclear thermal propulsion rockets and other emerging technologies

Discovery News - Project Bifrost is an ambitious study examining emerging space technologies that could lay the foundation for future interstellar flights and investigates the utility of fission for future space missions.

Project Bifrost was initiated by Research Lead Tabitha Smith (Strategic Officer of General Propulsion Science) and Brad Appel (Program Manager of Nuclear Propulsion at General Propulsion Science), working in collaboration with Icarus Interstellar Inc. a nonprofit foundation dedicated to achieving interstellar flight by the year 2100.

According to Richard Obousy, senior scientist for Icarus, "the technology roadmap to antimatter, or even fusion rockets could easily be decades in the making, but there is one technology that we have available today that represents the critical first step in the long road to the stars, namely fission."

The fission rocket being referred to here is the Nuclear Thermal Rocket, or NTR. An NTR uses nuclear fission as an energy source instead of chemical combustion, and uses just hydrogen as a propellant, allowing it to achieve a very high exhaust velocity and high thrust. That's the kind of mind-boggling technology upgrade that means piloted missions to deep space, which are beyond the pale for chemical rockets, suddenly become very feasible.

Recently, Tabitha Smith, research lead for Project Bifrost and chief strategic officer of General Propulsion Sciences was invited to Moscow to become more familiarized with U.S.-Russian business partnerships, and to collaborate with NTR and rocket propulsion colleagues under the auspices of the newly created Russian agency Rossotrudnichestvo -- an initiative started by President Medvedev to cultivate Silicon Valley-like entrepreneurship and international projects in Russia.

Russia has been leading research towards developing 1 megawatt class nuclear propulsion and power systems for space.

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