Nuclear Fission will power NASA’s prominent future missions and DARPA missions to Mars. The United States plans to test a spacecraft engine powered by nuclear fission by 2007 as part of a long-term NASA effort to demonstrate more efficient methods of propelling astronauts to Mars in the future, the space agency’s chief said on Tuesday.
NASA will partner with the U S military’s research & development agency, DARPA, to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion engine & launch it to space “as soon as 2027, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a conference in National Harbour, Maryland. “With the help of the new technology, astronauts could journey to & from deep space faster than ever- a new capability to prepare for crowded missions to Mars “, he added.
The space agency has studied for decades the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion, which introduces heat from a nuclear fission reactor to a hydrogen propellant to provide a thrust believed to be far more efficient than traditional chemical-based rocket engines.
NASA officials view nuclear thermal propulsion as crucial for sending humans beyond the moon & deeper into space. A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say.
That would substantially reduce the time astronauts would be exposed to deep-space radiation & also require fewer supplies, such as food & other cargo, during a trip to Mars.
“If we have swiffer trips for humans, they are safer trips,” NASA deputy administrator & former astronaut Pam Malory said Tuesday.
The planned demonstration, part of an existing DARPA research programme that NASA is now joining, could also inform the ambitions of the US Space Force, which has envisioned deploying nuclear reactor-powered spacecraft capable of moving other satellites orbiting near the moon, DARPA & Nasa officials said.
DARPA 2021 awarded funds to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin & Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin to study designs of nuclear reactors & spacecraft. By around March, the space agency will pick a company to build the nuclear spacecraft for the 2027 demonstration, the programme’s manager Tabitha Dodson said in an interview.
The joint NASA – DARPA effort’s budget is $ 110 million for the fiscal year 2023 & is expected to cross hundreds of millions of dollars more through 2027.