Encyclopedia Astronautica
Nerva 12 GW

Notional nuclear/lh2 rocket engine. Study 1959. Used on Hyperion launch vehicle.

Status: Study 1959.

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Associated Countries
See also
Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Hyperion American sounding rocket. Series of single-stage sounding rockets using eAc hybrid propulsion. 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...

  • Koelle, Heinz Hermann,, Handbook of Astronautical Engineering, McGraw-Hill,New York, 1961.

Associated Stages
  • Hyperion Sustainer Nuclear/LH2 propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 453,592/110,000 kg. Thrust 5,782.68 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 800 seconds. More...

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