Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

This is the original paper by R. Zubrin proposing the Nuclear Salt Water Rocket design.

Basically the design is that a capillar set of pipes store a uranium salt-water solution, inside a cadmium matrix, which helps to keep it below criticality. The fluid is simply flown at high speed into a combustion chamber where it reaches criticality, heats quickly and is expelled from some unspecified nozzle.

The paper is from 1991, and i'm sure that the design has been revisited many times, so there must be good critiques and discussion of the problems that would have to be addressed, but i could not find any serious follow-up literature about the viability of the design, just, you know, the usual blog and mailing list informal ranting that you can find from a simple google search.

Have there been any simulations or attempts to evaluate the design with more detail in the literature that i'm not aware? The original paper doesn't go into much discussion about the temperatures, which i presume are quite high, and most of the informal viability analysis i've read about focus on that aspect.

share|cite|improve this question
I presume you are you looking for info that goes beyond the statements made on the Wikipedia page ( )? – Johannes Jan 5 '13 at 6:32
A serious problem with follow ups is that the practical tests needed by a R&D program can only be done in space (and prefereabley not in close orbit) as these rockets work by spewing radioactives out the nozzel with the liquid propolent. So imagine assembling a test device on Earth and propsing to stick it on a rocket for either automated deployment or conveyence to the ISS for manual deployment. Either poses significant difficulties that will be magnified in the popular imagination. – dmckee Jan 5 '13 at 17:11
i know @dmckee, i agree that, unlike NERVA, we probably won't see a test of this kind of rocket on earth. But! i was hoping some simulation analysis of proposed chamber/nozzle design were already done – lurscher Jan 5 '13 at 17:16

Although the paper was published in the early 1990s, I could identify two citations of it only:

  • McNutt Jr., R.L., Andrews, G.B., McAdams, J., Gold, R.E., Santo, A., Oursler, D., Heeres, K., Fraeman, M. & Williams, B. 2003, Low-cost interstellar probe, Acta Astronautica, vol. 52, no. 2-6, pp. 267-279.
  • R.L. McNutt Jr., G.B. Andrews, J.V. McAdams, R.E. Gold, A.G. Santo, Douglas A. Ousler, K.J. Heeres, M.E. Fraeman, B.D. Williams, A Realistic Interstellar Probe, In: Klaus Scherer, Horst Fichtner, Hans Jörg Fahr and Eckart Marsch, Editor(s), COSPAR Colloquia Series, Pergamon, 2001, vol. 11, pp. 431-434.

There are issues with citation databases and search engines, their are not conclusive, I know. But just two follow-up papers/abstracts/proceedings in 20 years is usually a sign, that there has not been any further investigation - at least in civilian public research.

share|cite|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.