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UNM’s ISNPS receives NASA Early Stage Innovation Award to make Mars and moon missions possible

January 27, 2022 - by Kim Delker

The Institute for Space and Nuclear Power Studies (ISNPS) at The University of New Mexico has been selected to receive a NASA Early Stage Innovation 2021 research award to develop advanced lightweight heat-rejection radiators for future space nuclear power and propulsion systems. The research will pave the way for future missions to Mars and the moon.

The project, “Advanced Lightweight Heat Rejection Radiators for Space Nuclear Power Systems,” is for three years and $650,000. It is led by Distinguished and Regents’ Professor Mohamed El-Genk (principal investigator), research assistant professor Timothy Schriener (co-principal investigator), and assistant professor Osman Anderoglu (co-investigator), all are from the Department of Nuclear Engineering. The team will also include graduate and undergraduate students in nuclear engineering and other School of Engineering departments.

In order to make exploration to the moon and Mars possible, it is necessary to decrease transit time and reduce astronauts’ exposure to hazardous space radiation. This requires radiators for rejecting waste heat into space, but those are typically heavy and cumbersome and need to be much lighter to be optimal for such missions, El-Genk said. This project seeks to solve that issue by developing a highly resilient, lightweight, foldable heat-pipe radiator panel for heat rejection at these temperatures.

El-Genk said the foldable panels will employ an integrated metal-graphite composite structure to enhance heat spreading and rejection into space.

“The strong-but-lightweight carbon-carbon composite armor will protect the radiator panels against damage by the impacts of space debris and micro-meteoroids,” he said.

The headers for circulating the primary liquid metal coolant in the panels will employ perforated dividers with optimized orifices for reducing pumping power and achieving uniform heat dissipation.

The project began earlier this month.

The goal of NASA’s Early Stage Innovations is to accelerate the development of groundbreaking, high-risk/high-payoff space technologies to support the future space science and exploration needs of NASA, other government agencies and the commercial space sector.