Space nuclear tug. TEM on MAX-2019

In our country, the development of the transport and energy module of the TEM with the megawatt-class nuclear propulsion system (YEDU) continues. The appearance of such a model suitable for operation will have a serious impact on the further development of domestic and world space exploration. In the meantime, TEM is at the design stage, and recently the public again showed the layout of such a product in its current form.

New TEM layout at MAX-2019. RIA Photo News /

Exhibit MAX-2019

In recent years, various materials on TEM and NEDU for him have been repeatedly published. Among other things, the developers showed drawings with the possible appearance of such a sample. In late August, the first demonstration of the new TEM prototype, reflecting current views on this project, was held as part of the MAKS-2019 salon. The model was present in the Roscosmos pavilion at the Arsenal Design Bureau stand.

The current version of the appearance of TEM is markedly different from the previously demonstrated versions, but retains certain of their features. In particular, the general provisions of the assembly layout and design approaches have been retained. There are a number of characteristic differences.

The largest element of the breadboard module is a telescopic four-section round-section truss, which is the basis for the assembly of units. Its head part is equipped with a conical truss and a closed compartment. On the sides of the farm are fixed six panels of the cooling system. The tail compartment of the TEM is made in the form of a closed rectangular housing. The main farm is fixed on it in front, solar panels are on the sides. A new type of rocket engine and other units are placed in the body.

New and old

Earlier in the publications on the topic of TEM and YaEDU, images with a technique of a different appearance appeared. According to one of the later versions of the project, the transport and energy module should be based on a longitudinal sliding truss of square section and large elongation, which facilitates the launch of the product into orbit. In its head part, a compartment with a reactor is placed; in the tail part, an electric rocket engine and other systems located on the disclosed supports. Along the supporting farm it was planned to place cooling equipment.

The layout from Arsenal Design Bureau has a number of characteristic features and differs from older images. First of all, it is distinguished by the design of the main farm and the layout of the units. The new TEM version is characterized by a more massive carrier farm of a different design. He also lost the X-shaped tail beams, revealed in flight and carrying part of the instruments.

Layout design allows for a layout change. Perhaps now a large tail housing accommodates not only an electric rocket engine, but also a nuclear reactor with associated systems. In this case, the smaller head housing can be used to accommodate control systems or other equipment.

Different designs previously featured differing cooling system configurations. The same applies to the new layout. This time, it is proposed to use six emitter panels installed along the truss in the form of three parallel “planes” to radiate excess heat into space. Other cooler configurations were previously proposed, including aggregates of a larger area, occupying almost the entire length of the supporting truss.

In November last year, the Roskosmos television studio published a video showing the possible look of the future TEM with nuclear power plants. This version of the module was very different from those shown earlier. While maintaining a linear architecture based on a sliding truss, such a TEM had to have tail units made in the form of an open cylinder. In this form, it was necessary to perform a power plant, cooling, etc.

Space nuclear tug. TEM on MAX-2019
An early version of the TEM layout. Figure RSC Energia /

It is easy to see that the current TEM layout differs from the “last year” version of the look. Moreover, in its appearance and design, it is much closer to earlier versions of the project.

Technical tasks

The TEM project is of the highest technical complexity and for its successful implementation it is necessary to solve a lot of special problems. To create such a module, new designs of units and assemblies, new technologies and materials with special characteristics are needed. The need to solve all these problems has led to the development of nuclear power plants and TEMs carried out by a number of enterprises from Roskosmos and Rosatom.

At different times in the published materials there were different versions of TEM, and the reason for this can be considered precisely the overall complexity of the project. Success in finding solutions to various problems led to corresponding changes in the overall appearance of the module. Accordingly, the latest TEM model from Arsenal Design Bureau shows current views on the project.

According to well-known data, a gas-cooled fast neutron reactor was chosen as the basis for nuclear power generation. The helium-xenon mixture will be used in the primary circuit of the cooling system. Fuel with a high degree of enrichment will be placed in the active zone. The core temperature will reach 1500 ° K. It is planned to provide the highest resource of design, allowing to operate TEM during 10-12 years.

Nuclear power plants of this kind and with such characteristics have not yet been created and operated. For the construction of such a design, materials with high resistance to thermal and mechanical loads are required. It is also necessary to work out the design itself, so that at the required power it would have acceptable dimensions and weight.

There are difficulties in the field of cooling systems. A megawatt-class NEDF should dissipate comparable volumes of thermal energy into space. Modern radiators for space technology can not yet boast of such characteristics. So, the ISS cooling system throws into space approx. 70 kW of thermal energy is many times less than that required for nuclear power plants and TEM.

Various versions of coolers for TEM are being developed, which is reflected in the figures and during the assembly of models. Apparently, the set of flat radiators on the layout from Arsenal is currently considered the most profitable design with optimal characteristics. However, it is quite possible that this system will not be the final option.

Despite all the difficulties, significant success has been achieved in the framework of the TEM project. So, several years ago, tests began on the ID-500 electric rocket engine, created specifically for the future nuclear power plant. In 2017, such a product worked at the 300 watch stand, showing the power of 35 kW.

TEM sample of 2018. Frame from the video studio "Roscosmos"

The assembly and testing of the individual components of the nuclear power system and TEM are regularly carried out. For example, last year we tested a prototype of a drip cooling system. Other components of the reactor, auxiliary systems, and the transport and energy module as a whole are being developed.

Transport of the distant future

The purpose of the current projects of nuclear power and nuclear power engineering and TEM is to create a promising complex that can provide a solution to new problems in outer space. The transport and energy module with a reactor and an electric rocket engine will have important advantages over missile systems of traditional designs and will successfully organize new missions.

The main field of application of TEM is considered to be flights to other celestial bodies. NEDU shows the highest fuel efficiency and has a unique specific impulse, which simplifies flights to the Moon or Mars. There is also the opportunity to increase the payload compared to current space systems. An important feature of TEM is the possibility of power supply of the load due to the standard means of the module.

However, obtaining such results is possible only in the distant future. According to current plans, flight tests of TEMs in full package will begin no earlier than the end of the twenties. Launching the operation and bringing the module to real work is possible only in the early thirties.

Work on the TEM will continue for several years, and during this time the project may undergo noticeable changes. In this regard, we can assume that the layout of the module for MAX-2019 will soon cease to reflect the real appearance of the product being created. However, a change in views on the structure and its elements will lead to the appearance of new demonstration materials - already at the next exhibitions.
Ryabov Kirill
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