Request for Infomration (RFI) Pertaining to Proposed NASA Nuclear Systems Initative

Status Report From: Goddard Space Flight Center
Posted: Tuesday, August 6, 2002

* APPENDIX A - EXAMPLE SYSTEMS DIAGRAM 01 - Posted on Jul 26, 2002

General Information

Document Type: Presolicitation Notice
Solicitation Number: 10-00039
Posted Date: Jul 26, 2002
Original Response Date: Sep 06, 2002
Current Response Date: Sep 06, 2002
Original Archive Date: Jul 26, 2003
Current Archive Date: Jul 26, 2003
Classification Code: A -- Research & Development
Contracting Office Address

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Headquarters Acquisition Branch, Code 210.H, Greenbelt, MD 20771



The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invites you to submit a response to RFI 10-00039 to assist in the planning for research and development under the proposed NASA Nuclear Systems Initiative.


The President's Fiscal Year 2003 budget request to the Congress proposes a new initiative, the NASA Nuclear Systems Initiative, to enable significantly enhanced science-driven solar system exploration. The proposed NASA Nuclear Systems Initiative contains two elements:

  • Radioisotope Power Systems Development
  • Nuclear Fission Electrical Power and Propulsion Research and Development This Request for Information pertains only to Nuclear Fission Electrical Power and Propulsion Research and Development. Nuclear Fission Electrical Power and Propulsion Research and Development This element of the proposed NASA Nuclear Systems Initiative researches technologies and systems for high-power electrical power generation and propulsion. Such power sources generate heat from nuclear fission, and convert this heat into electrical power (~10's kW electric). Solar system exploration spacecraft could utilize this electrical power for high power electric propulsion, operate significantly more capable passive and active remote sensing scientific instrumentation, and operate spacecraft engineering subsystems including significantly higher bandwidth communications for science data return to Earth. Depending upon the characteristics of a specific science mission, this electric propulsion could potentially reduce launch window constraints for gravity assists, potentially reduce trip time, potentially increase payload mass, and potentially support entry into orbit of planets and their moons. The only nuclear fission electrical power system launched by the U.S. was the SNAP-10A in 1965. An example systems diagram of nuclear fission electrical power and propulsion systems is provided for reference in Appendix A.


    NASA seeks information to support planning for technology research in support of the proposed NASA Nuclear Systems Initiative in the area of nuclear fission electrical power and propulsion. NASA seeks information on technologies and system approaches in the following technology areas.

  • Space-based nuclear fission reactors and related components including fuel, cladding, core cooling components (e.g., pumps, heat pipes, working fluids), instrumentation and control for extended remote and autonomous operation (reflectors, control rods, drive mechanisms, sensors, radiation-hardened electronics, etc.), high-temperature and unique materials, and other equipment unique to the reactor system (e.g., gas separators);
  • Lightweight and high temperature shielding for neutron and gamma radiation attenuation;
  • Lightweight, efficient heat exchangers for the transfer of thermal energy from the nuclear fission reactor to the power conversion system and to the radiators;
  • Power conversion, including long-lived (e.g., 10 years or more) static and dynamic systems;
  • Power management, control, distribution, and electro-magnetic interference mitigation (including suppression of arcing, corona, radiation hardening of parts);
  • Lightweight, deployable space-based thermal radiators, for the rejection of waste heat from a power conversion system;
  • High-power electric propulsion,
  • Technologies, technical approaches, and concepts for rapid development fission reactor power systems with the following range of electrical power levels: 3-10 kWe (planetary surface with atmosphere), 100-250 kWe (space-based, for spacecraft/payload power and electric propulsion).
  • Technologies, technical approaches, and concepts for space-based fission reactor power systems with the following electrical power capabilities:, 1 MWe, 3 MWe, 10 MWe, 30 MWe, for more advance planetary exploration. For each of these technology areas or combinations of the above, information is sought in the following categories:
  • Safety (analyses completed and corresponding results; safety testing completed and corresponding results);
  • Requirements (performance requirements to which the technology, component, or system was designed and tested);
  • Performance characteristics (operating temperatures, transient response, physical properties, etc.);
  • State of the art (the degree of research, development, and testing completed; such as concept level, system requirements review level, system concept level, preliminary design, detailed design, component fabrication and lifetime testing results, qualification model, space flight model);
  • Degradation and failure mechanisms (e.g., graceful degradation or other);
  • Scalability (approach for, and degree to which the concept supports, scaling to higher and/or lower thermal and/or electrical power levels);
  • Ancillary / derived system requirements (angular momentum management, control systems and redundancy to support autonomous recovery from failures);
  • Innovative and cost effective approaches to development and demonstration;
  • Manufacturability (availability, and/or timeline to reestablish availability, of materials, including specialized nuclear-related materials, to support research and development);
  • Testability at ambient conditions or in relevant environments, including hard vacuum, and unique testing facilities;
  • Schedule (range of schedule estimates for research, development, testing, life testing and qualification). In consideration of information provide in response to the above, information is also requested regarding overall system design, development, integration, test, and flight qualification: o What would be candidate technical approaches (and estimated timelines) for the development and flight qualification of an initial fission power and electric propulsion system, based on existing and/or near-term technologies, and of potentially reduced power level. Based on these technical approaches and timelines, what would be needed in order to conduct this development, including materials manufacturing, component manufacturing, and systems engineering, integration, and test.


    Guidelines for the preparation and transmittal of responses to this RFI are contained in Appendix B. Responses to this RFI are due September 6, 2002, by 3 122 Eastern Daylight Savings Time. Respondents will be provided the opportunity to make a presentation (no longer than 1 hour in duration) regarding their submitted responses at NASA Headquarters. Respondents desiring to make an on-site presentation are requested to schedule a presentation time with Mr. Ray Taylor (, email preferred). Thank you for your support, and we look forward to receiving your response.

    The initial planning framework contained in this RFI is subject to change as the proposed initiative is formulated. POINT OF CONTACT Mr. Ray Taylor NASA Headquarters, Office of Space Science Email: (preferred) Phone: (202) 358-0766 Fax: (202) 358-2697

    This RFI does not obligate the U.S. Government to any future procurement. The U.S Government will protect all proprietary information. Responses that are received will not be returned, and will be disposed of after reviews of the responses are completed. NASA has no current procurement or acquisition requirement, and information received will not be used to award contracts. NASA will not reimburse or otherwise compensate for any costs associated with the submission of information. NASA will utilize information received from this Request for Information to assist in planning for research and development activities under the proposed Nuclear Systems Initiative.

    APPENDIX A - EXAMPLE SYSTEMS DIAGRAM APPENDIX B - RESPONSE PREPARATION AND TRANSMITTAL Responses to this RFI shall be sent by email to Mr. Ray Taylor ( The responses shall be in Portable Data Format (PDF) readable by Adobe Acrobat software and are not to exceed 30 pages. Respondents who wish to make a presentation at NASA Headquarters should prepare a presentation package of no more than 20 slides, and provide 15 hardcopies to session participants at the response presentation (if a presentation is elected). An electronic version (PDF) of the briefing shall be sent by email to Mr. Ray Taylor (, one day prior to the presentation. Any file containing a virus will not be opened. If difficulties arise with email transmission of responses, respondents may fax their responses to 202-358-2697.

    Original Point of Contact

    Ray Taylor, Program Executive, Phone (202) 358-0766, Fax (202) 358-2697, Email

    Email your questions to Ray Taylor at

    Current Point of Contact

    Ray Taylor, Program Executive, Phone (202) 358-0766, Fax (202) 358-2697, Email

    Email your questions to Ray Taylor at

    // end //

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