We propose to develop supercritical CO2 Brayton converter technology to help enable nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) for space exploration. This effort will extend spaceflight Brayton technology to significantly greater power levels and higher operating pressures where supercritical fluid properties provide dramatic advantages. The resulting converter will have exceptionally high specific power, creating a new benchmark for space systems. Creare is well suited to succeed because we have a long history developing advanced turbomachines, heat exchangers, and Brayton systems for challenging spaceflight applications. We will demonstrate the feasibility of our approach during the Phase I project by assessing design trades that maximize specific power for the overall system, specifying preliminary design details for the converter assembly, and conducting laboratory tests to verify key features. We will then retire the greatest technical risk for the converter during the Phase II project by fabricating and testing a turboalternator assembly with prototypical features at design operating conditions.
There are many NASA uses for our converter technology. Potential applications include nuclear electric propulsion, scientific spacecraft, manned exploration of the Lunar and Martian surfaces, and space station power systems. The most likely heat sources are fission reactors and concentrated solar radiation.
Terrestrial versions of our converter can be used to produce electric power for military and civilian applications. The technology can be integrated with nuclear reactors on ships and submarines, as well as utility-grade nuclear reactors. Alternatively, it can be coupled with non-nuclear heat sources such as fossil fuel combustion, biofuel combustion, refuse burning, and concentrated solar energy.