NASA to test nuclear-powered rocket engine by 2027

From Al Jazeera
January 24, 2023

The top official at the United States space agency NASA has said the country plans to test a spacecraft engine powered with nuclear fission by 2027, an advancement seen as key to long-haul missions including a manned journey to Mars.

NASA will partner with the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop the nuclear thermal propulsion engine and launch it into space, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said on Tuesday. The project has been named the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations or DRACO.

A nuclear thermal rocket engine uses a fission reactor to generate extremely high temperatures. The heat is then transferred to a liquid propellant, which “is expanded and exhausted through a nozzle to propel the spacecraft”, according to NASA.

“A nuclear thermal rocket can be three or more times more efficient than conventional chemical propulsion,” according to the agency.

…For its part, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has long hailed nuclear thermal propulsion as critical to journeying farther into space.

…In a statement, Stefanie Tompkins, the director of DARPA, hailed the plans to develop the “leap-ahead” advance.

“The space domain is critical to modern commerce, scientific discovery, and national security,” she said.

Full article with video: https://www.aljazeera(dot)com/news/2023/1/24/nasa-to-test-nuclear-fission-powered-spacecraft-engine-by-2027

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