/NASA and DARPA Collaborating on a Nuclear-Powered Rocket for Quick Trips to Mars

NASA and DARPA Collaborating on a Nuclear-Powered Rocket for Quick Trips to Mars

Key idea: Called DRACO, the demonstration spacecraft could reach Mars three times faster than vessels running on traditional chemical-based propulsion.

Original author and publication date: Kevin Hurler (Vice) – January 24, 2023

Futurizonte Editor’s Note: Nuclear- powered spaceships? What about warp drive?

From the article:   

One of the bigger questions surrounding NASA’s interest in sending a crewed mission to Mars surrounds the best way to get there, and it appears the agency might have found its answer. NASA announced today that it will be developing a nuclear thermal rocket engine in collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The collaboration is called DRACO, or Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations, and it’s expected to reduce the travel time it takes to get astronauts to Mars—and potentially more distant targets in deep space. According to a press release, NASA will lead technical development of the nuclear thermal engine that will be combined with an experimental DARPA spacecraft. The two agencies will further collaborate on combining the rocket with the spacecraft ahead of its demonstration in space as early as 2027.

“Our intent is to lead and develop a blueprint for human exploration and sustained presence in the solar system,” said NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy in a NASA fireside chat this morning. “DRACO will be a critical part of evaluating the technologies that will take us deeper into the solar system.”

The last time nuclear thermal engine tests were conducted in the U.S. was more than 50 years ago, according to NASA. The engine will see a fission reactor generate high temperatures to heat a liquid propellant, which then expands and is ejected through a nozzle to propel the spacecraft. NASA says that the nuclear thermal engine could be three or more times more efficient than traditional chemical propulsion.

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