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BWXT, Lockheed to Build Nuclear Propulsion System for DARPA Project

DRACO propulsion system

BWXT, Lockheed to Build Nuclear Propulsion System for DARPA Project

BWX Technologies will work with Lockheed Martin to create a nuclear thermal propulsion system and its fuel for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations project.

BWXT Advanced Technologies and Lockheed will complete the final design of the DRACO vehicle’s nuclear reactor. BWXT will also manufacture the reactor’s hardware and fuel, assemble the components and deliver the engine as a complete subsystem that will be integrated into the DRACO vehicle.

The reactor will use high-assay, low-enriched uranium fuel to heat a supercold gas that will propel DRACO through space for an extended period of time. The solution is more efficient than chemical combustion engines, BWXT said Wednesday.

Joe Miller, president of BWXT Advanced Technologies and a 4×24 member, said the contract adds to the company’s line-up of nuclear reactor design efforts for commercial and defense applications. He added that BWXT is uniquely positioned to develop and deploy nuclear reactors and fuel.

Tabitha Dodson, DRACO program manager at DARPA, said the contract has a potential value of $499 million.

According to DARPA, the DRACO program would demonstrate how a nuclear thermal rocket works in orbit. DARPA said nuclear thermal rocket propulsion is around 10,000 times more effective than electric propulsion and up to five times more effective than in-space chemical propulsion.

The U.S. Space Force is expected to launch DRACO in 2027.

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