Take the 2-minute tour ×
Space Exploration Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for spacecraft operators, scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Can anyone breakdown the cost of developing and implementing an upper stage nuclear thermal engine?

After development, what could the price be of each engine produced?

share|improve this question
add comment

1 Answer 1

Any sensible answer to your question should make an implicit assumption on the number of engines to be ordered overall. That is, we need to know the number of planned manned flights to Mars and other important destinations, since fixed (sunk) costs of an NTR-based program are significant. The following ideas are based on a few NASA documents discussing NTRs.

Let's see what has to be researched and done today (you can guesstimate person-hours and equipment expenses required, and multiply it by 2.5 to allow for your optimism):

  • Fuel elements together with cladding resistant to the hellish combination of high neutron flux and hot hydrogen
  • A new test rig has to be built at the Nevada test site without making the US look like a violator of the comprehensive test ban treaty
  • Hydrothermoneutronic simulation codes must be re-validated
  • A fueling, test and integration facility should be built at Cape Canaveral
  • A dedicated fuel production facility
  • An engine assembly line
  • NTR control software and hardware
  • The whole suite of vibration, radiation damage, electromagnetic interference, drop, abort etc. etc. tests should be conducted
  • Environmental impact statements should be prepared and filed for all of the above activities and facilities
  • A stringent quality control program must be established bridging the efforts of NASA and DoE.

There are a few concrete sums scattered across the NTRS, but I'd be wary of trusting them blindly. There are also many unknowns, from the number of firings required to the technology to manufacture fuel elements.

share|improve this answer
A related question may be the threshold point for cost-savings over currenbt (LOX/LH2) burnbers of sa given thrust level. –  MercuryPlus Jun 19 at 0:06
I don't see any problems with the test ban - a NTR is "just" a special kind of nuclear reactor. Project Orion would be different. –  Martin Schröder Jun 23 at 20:19
@Martin - Apparently, the Russkies considered NERVA a diplomacy problem. –  Deer Hunter Jun 27 at 5:33
@DeerHunter: Source? Again: Why? –  Martin Schröder Jun 27 at 11:36
@MartinSchröder txchnologist.com/post/25510667530/… "An account in Annie Jacobsen’s “Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base,” paints an even wilder picture. On Jan.12, 1965, Jacobsen writes, a Kiwi reactor at Los Alamos was allowed to overheat as a kind of practice drill for a nuclear accident , and eventually burst. A radioactive cloud floated west toward Los Angeles and then out to sea, according to Jacobsen’s book. The Russians argued it violated the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty." –  Deer Hunter Jun 27 at 14:07
show 1 more comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.