paperburn1 wrote:Notably hidden among the budget items for NASA was a $100 million allocation to develop a nuclear thermal rockets.
Does anybody know if polywell tried to get their fingers into that rice bowl?
Not a community rice bowl, although there are other rice bowls specifically meant for the topic.
That program is specifically on track to develop a modernized Pewee-type fission NTR with testing scheduled in the next five years. It was started in 2010 by the Obama Administration and violently trimmed back by Congress to its present state, which arguably makes it a smaller political target.
In short, Obama asked NASA what they wanted for space exploration, they coughed up a list that's been around since the 1960's that included things like orbital propellant depots and reviving NERVA and flight-testing it, and that got submitted in the new budget blueprint in place of the glistening pork that was Constellation. Excrement hit the fan. The compromise 2010 Space Act allowed Congress to design its own rocket (SLS), and NASA got the Space Technology Program, which allows NASA to work on about a dozen items they've needed for fifty years to do anything serious. Orbital fueling has been considered verboten, because that's seen by Congress as a threat to SLS, but they were allowed to begin a very small NTR program which thankfully has not received enough attention to prevent it from progressing.
Note that NTRs have been the preferred engine in every single Mars Reference Mission since NERVA was certified for flight. Congress actually refused to allocate money for NERVA's Reactor In-Flight Test (RIFT), and the Nixon Administration caused a constitutional crisis by using NERVA and Apollo funding to permanently dismantle both programs shortly before Watergate.* At any rate, there's a small chance this program might be able to get back to where NERVA was before its dismantlement, in which case NASA will ask for funding to launch a new RIFT, at which point in time people will get hot and bothered about allowing neutrons into space.
Coincidentally this will all happen about 2023 or possibly 2024, which is when Trump has asked for a human return to the lunar surface to cap his second term. His arch-nemesis, Jeff Bezos, offered to make that happen yesterday with Blue Moon. So at about the time when we're about to start doing human landings using a spacecraft developed on Bezos' dime, NASA will be seriously making their case for NTR-powered missions to Mars.**
* The constitutional crisis was resolved in the Supreme Court early in the Ford Administration; it turns out that when Congress allocates funds for a program the Administration isn't allowed to redirect those funds to dismantle the program. Go figure.
** And SpaceX may possibly be getting ready for a lunar mission with Starship.