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DARPA Pursuing Nuclear Thermal Propulsion for Space Maneuverability

Space missions

DARPA Pursuing Nuclear Thermal Propulsion for Space Maneuverability

The Department of Defense has selected three prime contractors to help demonstrate a nuclear thermal propulsion system above low Earth orbit by 2025.

General Atomics, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin will participate in the first phase of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations program, the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency said.

DARPA believes that an NTP system can achieve the high thrust-to-weight ratio and propellant efficiency needed to rapidly maneuver in space, a feat that is difficult with existing electric and chemical propulsion systems.

The final DRACO spacecraft will support DOD in its goal to implement rapid maneuver in the space between the Earth and the Moon, according to DARPA.

Maj. Gen. Nathan Greiner, the Air Force’s program manager for DRACO, said the three contractors were selected because of their experience in developing and deploying advanced reactor, propulsion and spacecraft solutions.

Phase 1 of DRACO will last 18 months and cover the preliminary design of an NTP reactor and propulsion subsystem concept. The companies will also produce operational system and demonstration system spacecraft concepts, DARPA said.

“This first phase of the DRACO program is a risk reduction effort that will enable us to sprint toward an on-orbit demonstration in later phases,” Greiner explained.

General Atomics will be responsible for the preliminary design of the reactor and propulsion subsystem, while Blue Origin and Lockheed will handle the operational system and demonstration system concepts.

DARPA said it will release solicitations for follow-on phases in a future announcement.

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Category: Space