Analysis of a Reusable Lunar Transfer Vehicle Using Nuclear Electric Propulsion

Aerospace propulsion engineering


Loeb H. W.1*, Mogulkin A. .2**, Obukhov V. A.3**, Petukhov V. G.3***

1. Justis-Liebig-Universitat, Physikalisches Institut, Giessen, Germany
2. ,
3. Moscow Aviation Institute (National Research University), 4, Volokolamskoe shosse, Moscow, А-80, GSP-3, 125993, Russia



A reusable electrically propelled cargo spacecraft with nuclear power plant, which should perform five round–trips between a low Earth orbit (800 km) and a low Lunar orbit (100 km) and transport components of a future permanently manned Lunar station, is considered. The spacecraft will weigh 61.8 tons, payload of 25 tons including, at the launch from the low Earth orbit. The nuclear–electric propulsion system will consist of a 1 MW nuclear power plant (of 20 tons in mass) and 4 clusters of 10 radio–frequency ion thrusters each. 28 of them will produce total thrust of 18.2 N and consume 840 kW of power. 10.8 tons of Xenon will be consumed per a round trip. The designed radio–frequency ion thruster “RFIT–45” with the ionizer diameter of 45 cm shall have the following performance: power consumption of 35 kW, specific impulse of 7000 s, and lifetime of 50 000 hrs.
According to the mission analysis, the reusable lunar transport spacecraft can deliver up to 128.5 tons of payload to the low Lunar orbit or 57.4 tons of payload to the lunar surface by 5 trips during about 7 years, delivery of payload of 205.2 tons to the low Earth orbit being necessary for securing mentioned operations, that being 2 – 3.5 times less than without the use of electric propulsions.


radio frequency ion thruster, reusable lunar transfer vehicle, low earth orbit, low lunar orbit, nuclear electric propulsion unit


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