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DARPA Seeking to Advance Nuclear Propulsion Technology for Space Travel

Spacecraft propulsion


DARPA Seeking to Advance Nuclear Propulsion Technology for Space Travel

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced that it is seeking proposals for Phases 2 and 3 of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations program for the design, development, fabrication and assembly of a nuclear thermal rocket engine. The aim is to have an in-space flight demonstration of nuclear thermal propulsion by the fiscal year 2026, DARPA said Thursday.

In a statement, the agency said that the more advanced phases of the DRACO program will focus on developing and demonstrating an actual nuclear thermal rocket engine in orbit. DARPA explained that Phase 1 of the effort only involved developing a preliminary design for the rocket engine reactor and developing a conceptual design for the in-orbit demonstration system.

Maj. Nathan Greiner, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office said that to maintain technological superiority in space, the United States must develop a “leap-ahead propulsion technology.” He added that current limitations in propulsion systems impose many challenges to efforts to achieve space dominance.

DARPA said that DRACO’s success will mean much faster space travel. The agency added that it plans to use the technology to enable time-critical missions over vast distances in cislunar space, the area between Earth and the moon.

Currently, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration still relies on chemical rockets, which have been in use since the invention of rocketry. However, DARPA said that nuclear thermal propulsion promises to achieve high thrust-to-weight similar to chemical propulsion but with two to five times the efficiency.

DARPA emphasized that successfully developing practical nuclear propulsion will enhance U.S. interests in space.

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Category: Space

Tags: DARPA Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations DRACO Nathan Greiner nuclear thermal rocket space