Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

NRE 8011/8012 and MP 6011/6012 Seminar

Nuclear & Radiological Engineering and Medical Physics Programs


Fundamental capability of Nuclear Thermal Propulsion


Dr. Michael Houts


Nuclear Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Thursday, November 30, 2017 at 11:00:00 AM


Boggs Building, Room Room 3-47


Dr Dan Kotlyar


The fundamental capability of Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) is game changing for space exploration. For example, for human Mars missions NTP can provide significantly faster transit and/or round trip times for crew; larger mission payloads; off nominal mission opportunities (including wider injection windows); and crew mission abort options not available from other architectures. The use of NTP can also reduce required earth-to-orbit launches, reducing cost and improving ground logistics. In addition to enabling robust human Mars mission architectures, NTP can be used to lower the cost of cis-lunar operations and enable rapid maneuvers, including plane changes. A first generation NTP system could provide high thrust at a specific impulse above 900 s, roughly double that of state of the art chemical engines. Characteristics of fission and NTP indicate that useful first generation systems will provide a foundation for future systems with extremely high performance. Progress made under the NTP project could also help enable high performance space fission power systems and Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NEP). The presentation will provide an overview of NTP and ongoing research related to NTP.


Dr. Houts has a PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory for 11 years where he served in various positions including Team Leader for Criticality, Reactor, and Radiation Physics and Deputy Group Leader of the 70 person Nuclear Design and Risk Analysis group. Dr. Houts currently serves as Nuclear Research Manager for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where he has been employed for 16 years. He is also the principal investigator for NASA’s Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) project. Recent awards include a NASA Exceptional Service Medal, a NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal, and being selected as an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.


Refreshments will be served.