Megahit Case Study

The MEGAHIT project created a roadmap for the necessary technologies to be developed in Europe to enable the creation of a high power (MW level) space transport vehicle with nuclear electric propulsion.

 

Partner's business

ESF specialises in the coordination and management of scientific projects. We specialise in EU-wide research projects that operate, at least partially, with EU framework programme funding and cover a variety of topics and domains. The strength of ESF lies in bringing various communities together. The MEGAHIT project was such a case.

The Challenge

Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NEP) is a space technology domain that is regarded as having significant potential for breakthrough results. NEP requires close cooperation between the nuclear and space communities, and research in this area has traditionally been led by the United States and Russia. 

When the European Commission put out a call for innovative solutions in the field of propulsion, ESF was asked to lead a consortium of space agencies, research organisations and industrial entities that would collaborate to create a roadmap for the development of NEP technologies in Europe. The roadmap would target technologies enabling the creation of a high-power space transport vehicle using NEP (at the range of Megawatt-level power, orders of magnitude higher than the currently available Kilowatt-level power sources).

Since any future attempt to build such a spacecraft would require significant resources and could only be undertaken as an international initiative, another objective was to create a European and international community centred on NEP, and analyse the potential for further collaboration at an international level.

The solution

ESF was approached to organise this initiative because of its extensive network within the European Scientific and technological community, its relations with the EU space agencies and its expertise in multinational collaboration efforts. Additionally, ESF is viewed as a truly European organisation (i.e. independent from national interests) and, as such, able to lead a multinational effort that would require pulling resources from various nation states within the EU and Russia.

ESF led the effort in building a consortium of prominent European Stakeholders, with the addition of the renowned Russian Keldysh Research Centre. The final consortium was comprised of The European Science Foundation (ESF) (Co-ordinator), the CNES Launcher Directorate (CNES-DLA, French space agency), DLR Bremen (German Space agency), the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) from UK, the aforementioned Keldysh Research Centre from Russia and Thales Alenia Space Italia, a leading European company in the field of spacecraft design and development. 

The resulting project was MEGAHIT, an FP7 SPACE programme, focusing on Megawatt level power for space. The MEGAHIT project was funded from 2012 to 2013, with a total budget of 500K Euros.

The results

The MEGAHIT project delivered a number of significant results, opening the way for international collaboration in the concept of NEP :

  • The International Nuclear Power and Propulsion System (INPPS) Roadmap – with the already available low and medium power roadmaps from other EC initiatives (such as DiPoP), Europe is now in a position to offer its contributions to power supply research and development worldwide for the next decade.
  • The MEGAHIT reference spacecraft – a nuclear-powered space flagship longer than 30 m in length, with a radiator area of about 1000 m2 and mass of 40 t. It uses a nuclear reactor to achieve power at a high level (>1 MW). The MEGAHIT project constructed the reference vision for such a spacecraft and analysed the necessary technology development efforts needed to bring such a project to fruition with its final roadmap. MEGAHIT prepared the ground for technology demonstration projects within H2020.
  • The MEGAHIT Workshop in Brussels in 2013 brought together approximately 100 specialists in space and nuclear technology. The workshop lasted 3 days and saw a very interesting discussion on possible production of such a spacecraft. In addition to the very fruitful technical discussion, the main outcome was political; high level representatives from US, Russia, Japan, Brazil, China and Europe came together to discuss possible collaboration on the topic.

The MEGAHIT project was funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant Agreement n° 313096.

A new project DEMOCRITOS, also funded by the European Commission under H2020 Space, is taking MEGAHIT work further by designing three different demonstrators to investigate the technologies identified within MEGAHIT.