KEY IDEA: The space race has been revived, but this time, the goal post has been shifted much further – to Mars. As recent technological advancements promise to open new horizons of exploration, NASA plans to cut the travel time to Mars with a nuclear powered spacecraft.
Original author and publication date: Chrissy Sexton (Earth.com) – August 6, 2023
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: Mars is getting closer and closer. Let’s see what we will discover there.
From the article:
A trip to Mars currently takes approximately seven months, covering a staggering 300-million-mile journey. NASA, in collaboration with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), now proposes an ambitious plan that hinges on the promise of nuclear thermal propulsion technology to reduce this duration significantly.
DRACO spacecraft is nuclear powered
NASA aims to launch a nuclear-powered spacecraft, known as DRACO (Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations), into Earth’s orbit either by late 2025 or early 2026. The spacecraft, under construction by Lockheed Martin, a leading aerospace and defense company, will serve as a testbed for this groundbreaking technology.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson said that this technology “would allow humans to travel in deep space at record speed.” However, it remains unclear by how much the nuclear thermal propulsion technology can decrease the travel time.
DRACO is expected to provide a treasure trove of critical data that will usher in a new age of space exploration.
“We’re going to put this together, we’re going to fly this demonstration, gather a bunch of great data and really, we believe, usher in a new age for the United States [and] for humankind, to support our space exploration mission,” said Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lockheed Martin Lunar Exploration Campaigns.
Nuclear powered space technology
A nuclear thermal rocket (NTR), the underpinning technology of the DRACO, boasts a thrust-to-weight ratio approximately 10,000 times greater than electric propulsion and two-to-five times more efficiency than in-space chemical propulsion.
The technology utilizes heat from a nuclear powered fission reactor to heat a hydrogen propellant, which then expands through a nozzle to provide thrust, propelling the spacecraft forward.