Most solid-core nuclear rocket designs seem to have a rather short fuel lifetime (and one that wastes most of the uranium or plutonium) due to the buildup of fission products (combined with the very thin margins / extremely aggressive high-performance design of the reactor).

Being able to refuel from a depot or fuel carrier craft seems like it could extend the lifetime of such missions, and the fuel could potentially be reprocessed.

Have methods for refueling nuclear thermal rockets been designed or studied in detail?

(To me, this sounds like it would go along well with pebble/particle beds.)

  • $\begingroup$ The challenge with pebble beds or any other fuel-swaps would be the weight of the extra fuel and the mechanism to do it. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Mar 18, 2020 at 9:55
  • $\begingroup$ I'm suggesting the extra fuel would be supplied by a depot or collier ship, not within the ship using the nuclear engine. $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Mar 18, 2020 at 11:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ How does the refueling craft get to where it's needed? In any case, I strongly doubt nuclear-powered drives (other than indirect, like some sort of derived ion, or nuke-to-steam) are really a viable approach $\endgroup$ Mar 18, 2020 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ If the nuclear core is used for a longer time, there is a risk of a core melt down caused by high active fission products decay heat after reactor shut down when there is no more fuel to cool the hot core. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Mar 18, 2020 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ But how to refuel from a depot without losing speed to the rendezvous maneuver? The depot should follow the same trajectory in a small distance to the nuclear thermal rocket. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Mar 18, 2020 at 18:41


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