Encyclopedia Astronautica
Mars 1994



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Keldysh Mars
Credit: Jakob Terweij
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Kurchatov Mars Space
Nuclear-thermal Mars expedition spacecraft as designed by the Kurchatov Institute in 1989.
Credit: © Mark Wade
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1994 NTR Mars Design
Nuclear thermal Mars spacecraft design by NII-TP/Keldysh Institute.
Russian manned Mars expedition. Study 1994. Soviet / Russian design for a Mars expedition powered by RD-0410 bi-modal nuclear thermal engines. A crew of five would complete the trip to Mars and back in 460 days.

By the 1980's test of the experimental RD-0410 nuclear thermal rocket engine had led to a definitive flight design. The design included bimodal use of the nuclear reactor to provide electrical power during dormant or cruise flight phases by means of a Brayton cycle turbine using xenon-helium coolant. The NPO Luch powerplant produced 20,000 kgf, with a thermal power of 1200 MW, operating time of 5 hours, and a specific impulse of between 815 and 927 seconds. During cruise operations the turbine would provide 50-200 kW of electric power, requiring 600 square meters of radiators. Two designs emerged using a cluster of three to four of these engines with a total powerplant mass of 50 to 70 metric tons. The 1989 layout of the Kurchatov Institute surrounded the crew quarters with liquid hydrogen propellant tanks to shield the crew from radiation from the reactors and cosmic rays. The radiators were positioned at the nose of the spacecraft. A more detailed 1994 design from the Keldysh Institute / NII-TP placed the radiators forward of the engines, followed by communications antennae, the living quarters (again surrounded by propellant tanks), followed by two large landing craft (one for Mars, one for Earth) docked laterally at the nose. The crew of five would complete the trip to Mars and back in 460 days. Total time of thrusting engine operation for the 800 metric ton, 84 m long craft was 6 hours.

From fore to aft the spacecraft consisted of:

  • The Mars landing craft, in the familiar cylinder with conical nose configuration, 3.8 m in diameter and 13 m long
  • The Earth return craft, in the same configuration as the Mars lander.
  • The Living Quarters, with a Mir-type spherical docking unit at the nose, 5.5 m in diameter and 33 m long. This was divided into two sections, with a spherical airlock section dividing them. The forward section was equipped with a long manipulator arm for moving landers or modules around the docking unit. A radiation storm cellar was enclosed within the aft section for protection of the crew during solar storms.
  • Six 36.5 m long tanks for storage of the liquid hydrogen, arranged around the living quarters. Four containing the earth-boost propellant were 6 m in diameter while two with the Mars braking and departure propellant were 5 m in diameter.
  • A 3 m wide spar ran from the base of the crew quarters to the nuclear power plant. The first 18 m of the spar were used to mount communications antennae, followed by an 18 m section with radiators for rejecting reactor heat during cruise operations.
  • The final 11.5 m long propulsion section, with 3 or 4 engines

Propellant made up about half of the total starting spacecraft mass.

Mars 1994 Mission Summary:

  • Summary: Post-Soviet design by Kurchatov Institute for a nuclear thermal powered Mars expedition using the proven RD-0410 engine.
  • Propulsion: Nuclear thermal
  • Braking at Mars: propulsive
  • Mission Type: opposition
  • Split or All-Up: all up
  • ISRU: no ISRU
  • Launch Year: 2010
  • Crew: 5
  • Mars Surface payload-metric tons: 60
  • Outbound time-days: 200
  • Mars Stay Time-days: 30
  • Return Time-days: 230
  • Total Mission Time-days: 460
  • Total Payload Required in Low Earth Orbit-metric tons: 800
  • Total Propellant Required-metric tons: 400
  • Propellant Fraction: 0.50
  • Mass per crew-metric tons: 160
  • Launch Vehicle Payload to LEO-metric tons: 88
  • Number of Launches Required to Assemble Payload in Low Earth Orbit: 9
  • Launch Vehicle: Energia

Crew Size: 5. Electric System: 200.00 average kW.

Gross mass: 800,000 kg (1,760,000 lb).
Payload: 400,000 kg (880,000 lb).
Height: 84.00 m (275.00 ft).
Span: 18.00 m (59.00 ft).
Thrust: 784.00 kN (176,250 lbf).
Specific impulse: 927 s.

More... - Chronology...


Associated Countries
See also
  • Mars Expeditions Since Wernher von Braun first sketched out his Marsprojekt in 1946, a succession of designs and mission profiles were seriously studied in the United States and the Soviet Union. By the late 1960's Von Braun had come to favour nuclear thermal rocket powered expeditions, while his Soviet counterpart Korolev decided that nuclear electric propulsion was the way to go. All such work stopped in both countries in the 1970's, after the cancellation of the Apollo program in the United States and the N1 booster in the Soviet Union. More...
  • Russian Mars Expeditions Aelita was the Queen of Mars in the famous socialist parable filmed by Jakov Protazanov in 1924. It was altogether fitting that her name would be given to the leading Soviet plan for the conquest of the Red Planet. The Soviet Union's Korolev had the same original dream as Wernher von Braun - a manned expedition to Mars. In both cases this goal was interrupted by the 'side show' of the moon race of the 1960's. In both cases that race proved so costly and of so little public interest that political support for any Mars expeditions evaporated. More...

Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Energia The Energia-Buran Reusable Space System (MKS) began development in 1976 as a Soviet booster that would exceed the capabilities of the US shuttle system. Following extended development, Energia made two successful flights in 1987-1988. But the Soviet Union was crumbling, and the ambitious plans to build an orbiting defense shield, to renew the ozone layer, dispose of nuclear waste, illuminate polar cities, colonize the moon and Mars, were not to be. Funding dried up and the Energia-Buran program completely disappeared from the government's budget after 1993. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • Kurchatov Russian manufacturer of spacecraft. Kurchatov Design Bureau, Russia. More...

Associated Propellants
  • Nuclear/LH2 Nuclear thermal engines use the heat of a nuclear reactor to heat a propellant. Although early Russian designs used ammonia or alcohol as propellant, the ideal working fluid for space applications is the liquid form of the lightest element, hydrogen. Nuclear engines would have twice the performance of conventional chemical rocket engines. Although successfully ground-tested in both Russia and America, they have never been flown due primarily to environmental and safety concerns. Liquid hydrogen was identified by all the leading rocket visionaries as the theoretically ideal rocket fuel. It had big drawbacks, however - it was highly cryogenic, and it had a very low density, making for large tanks. The United States mastered hydrogen technology for the highly classified Lockheed CL-400 Suntan reconnaissance aircraft in the mid-1950's. The technology was transferred to the Centaur rocket stage program, and by the mid-1960's the United States was flying the Centaur and Saturn upper stages using the fuel. It was adopted for the core of the space shuttle, and Centaur stages still fly today. More...

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