Principles of Nuclear Rocket Propulsion

Principles of Nuclear Rocket Propulsion

1st Edition - July 25, 2016

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  • Author: William J. Emrich, Jr.
  • Paperback ISBN: 9780128044742
  • eBook ISBN: 9780128045305

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Principles of Nuclear Rocket Propulsion provides an understanding of the physical principles underlying the design and operation of nuclear fission-based rocket engines. While there are numerous texts available describing rocket engine theory and nuclear reactor theory, this is the first book available describing the integration of the two subject areas. Most of the book’s emphasis is primarily on nuclear thermal rocket engines, wherein the energy of a nuclear reactor is used to heat a propellant to high temperatures and then expel it through a nozzle to produce thrust. Other concepts are also touched upon such as a section devoted to the nuclear pulse rocket concept wherein the force of externally detonated nuclear explosions is used to accelerate a spacecraft. Future crewed space missions beyond low earth orbit will almost certainly require propulsion systems with performance levels exceeding that of today’s best chemical engines. A likely candidate for that propulsion system is the solid core Nuclear Thermal Rocket or NTR. Solid core NTR engines are expected to have performance levels which significantly exceed that achievable by any currently conceivable chemical engine. The challenge is in the engineering details of the design which includes not only the thermal, fluid, and mechanical aspects always present in chemical rocket engine development, but also nuclear interactions and some unique materials restrictions.

Key Features

  • Sorts and organizes information on various types of nuclear thermal rocket engines into a coherent curriculum
  • Includes a number of example problems to illustrate the concepts being presented
  • Features a companion site with interactive calculators demonstrating how variations in the constituent parameters affect the physical process being described
  • Includes 3D figures that may be scaled and rotated to better visualize the nature of the object under study


Aerospace and nuclear engineers; Researchers involved in developing nuclear propulsion systems; Graduate aerospace and nuclear engineering students interested in advanced rocket propulsion, especially nuclear rocket propulsion

Table of Contents

  • 1. Introduction
    2. Rocket Engine Fundamentals
    3. Nuclear Rocket Engine Cycles
    4. Interplanetary Mission Analysis
    5. Basic Nuclear Structure and Processes
    6. Neutron Flux Energy Distribution
    7. Neutron Balance Equation and Transport Theory
    8. Multigroup Neutron Diffusion Equations
    9. Thermal Fluid Aspects of Nuclear Rockets
    10. Turbomachinery
    11. Nuclear Reactor Kinetics
    12. Nuclear Rocket Stability
    13. Fuel Depletion Implications for Long Duration Operation
    14. Shielding of Nuclear Rockets
    15. Materials for Nuclear Thermal Rockets
    16. Nuclear Rocket Engine Testing
    17. Advanced Nuclear Rocket Concepts

Product details

  • No. of pages: 344
  • Language: English
  • Copyright: © Butterworth-Heinemann 2016
  • Published: July 25, 2016
  • Imprint: Butterworth-Heinemann
  • Paperback ISBN: 9780128044742
  • eBook ISBN: 9780128045305

About the Author

William J. Emrich, Jr.

William J. Emrich, Jr. has worked as a senior engineer at NASA Marshall Center for almost 35 years investigating numerous advanced propulsion concepts for travel in deep space. Most recently he worked as the project manager and principal investigator of the Nuclear Thermal Rocket Element Environmental Simulator (NTREES) which is a one of a kind facility that he developed to recreate the harsh operating environments present in operating nuclear rocket engines and where now nuclear rocket fuel elements are tested to their limits to evaluate their survivability. In 2015, as a result of his efforts in developing the NTREES facility he became only the second Marshall employee to win the AIAA Engineer of the Year award. To acknowledge this award, the city Huntsville, Alabama designated the day he received the award as William Emrich day. Now retired from NASA, he is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville where he teaches a course in nuclear rocket propulsion and mentors young engineers seeking to pursue a career in that field. William Emrich is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of California and is a fellow in the American Society Mechanical Engineers and an associate fellow in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Affiliations and Expertise

Senior Engineer, NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, USA (retired) and Adjunct Professor, University of Alabama in Huntsville

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  • DonaldBingaman Sun Sep 08 2019

    The Engine for Mars

    Great review of the Nuclear Thermal Rocket Engine physics, design considerations and history from Kiwi to NERVA. Required reading for designers of interplanetary spacecraft

  • Willis S. Sun Apr 01 2018

    Principles of Nuclear Rocket Propulsion

    The best recent textbook on nuclear rocket propulsion for aspiring aerospace engineers.