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NASA ordered the development of ceramic radiators for nuclear power plants for spacecraft and bases.

Published: 2023-01-07

A team of scientists from the Faculty of Engineering at Cornell University received a NASA grant to develop ceramic heat sinks to cool nuclear power plants for space. Ceramics will reduce the weight of radiators and work with aggressive refrigerants, which is impossible in the case of metal heat pipes and radiators. Also, ceramics will allow 3D printing of heatsinks made of porous materials, increasing their efficiency and facilitating production.

According to the new strategy of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN, further space exploration will become impossible without the transfer of nuclear technologies to space programs. In the United States, defense research departments have already begun launching relevant programs and issuing grants. Spaceships with nuclear power plants from electric to those using the energy of nuclear fission for jet ejection of the working substance will be able to fly farther and longer, and without this, the study and development of the solar system has no significant prospects.

Researchers from Cornell University received money to work under the AdVECT (Additive Vehicle-Embedded Cooling Technologies) program. The project aims to create new ceramic heat transfer technologies suitable for nuclear power systems, including Fission Surface Power nuclear reactors that could one day power a lunar base, and nuclear electric propulsion that could efficiently drive rockets to Mars.

As part of the grant, scientists will develop new ceramic resins and additive manufacturing methods for 3D printing components such as porous ceramic heatsinks with embedded heat pipes. X-ray imaging, thermal analysis and vacuum chamber testing will be used to optimize the mechanical strength and other properties of ceramics.

The challenge for scientists is to overcome the limitations in cooling technologies currently used for space exploration, which are relatively heavy heatsinks with metal heat pipes, which limits future missions. The lighter weight alternative in the form of carbon-composite materials is also not suitable for solving such problems, since such materials do not withstand space conditions. But ceramics opens up unprecedented prospects in space cooling systems, which scientists undertake to prove in practice.