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I am watching a video on nuclear rocket engines, specifically the Nerva engine. It has a propulsion efficiency of 750-800 Isp versus chemical rockets which are only 350-400 Isp. The follow on NRX engine had a efficiency of 900 Isp.

Basically both were a graphite reactor surrounded by a beryllium belt. Liquid hydrogen was then pumped though the reactor and out the nozzle.

The engines were successfully tested on test stands. A working engine was built. IF the engine is so efficient, why has one never been built and used?

Is it as simple of the fear of having a huge dirty bomb on a launch pad?

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    $\begingroup$ Does that fear not seem quite enough for you? $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Apr 17 '19 at 20:52
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It becomes sensible to use the nuclear propulsion when you launch very large payloads or do the interplanetary missions.

At present there's no real drive to do any of that. There's no immediate plans for the industrialization of space because of the lack of profits. Just as well there is no urgent need to put a flag on the surface of Mars. As result we don't even see many superheavy conventional launchers.

So in my opinion the primary obstacle is the lack of mission. When you talk about purely scientific missions all other issues arise - all extra costs and the nuclear fear. However if there were actual need, they would probably be outweighed.

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