SPEAR Probe - An Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration
Howe Industries is excited to announce that the Swarm-Probe Enabling ATEG Reactor, or SPEAR, has been awarded a Phase I NIAC from NASA. The SPEAR is a nuclear electric propulsion spacecraft that uses a new, lightweight reactor moderator and advanced thermoelectric generators (ATEGs) to greatly reduce overall core mass. This will subsequently require a reduction in operating temperatures and reduce the total power levels achievable by the core. However, the reduced mass will require reduced power for propulsion, resulting in a small, inexpensive nuclear electric spacecraft. This project will also demonstrate the operation of the ATEG conversion system through a series of lab bench tests by showing the improved characteristics of the new device. The goal of this effort will be to design a spacecraft that will keep overall costs very low and allow for a number of deep space missions. This will be achieved by keeping the mass and volume low enough to be launched commercially by a Minotaur IV rocket, use low enriched uranium to keep licensing costs low and allow for private ownership, and utilize small satellite technology to keep technology costs low. Current estimates predict 10 Cubesats of 7 kg each could be delivered to Europa on a craft with a total wet mass of 1100 kg and length of 4 meters; well within the requirements of commercially available launch vehicles.