In a joint effort to boldly go where no one has gone before, NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have announced that they will partner up on the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations, or DRACO, program. The goal of the program is to test a nuclear thermal rocket engine in space, which will be an essential capability for NASA’s crewed missions to Mars.
“We’re thrilled to be working with our friends at DARPA on this exciting new venture,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “With the help of this new technology, astronauts will be able to journey to and from deep space faster than ever before. It’s a major step forward in our efforts to prepare for crewed missions to Mars.”
The partnership between NASA and DARPA will allow for faster transit times, which will reduce the risk for astronauts. This is especially important for human missions to Mars, as longer trips require more supplies and more robust systems. Maturing faster, more efficient transportation technology will also help NASA meet its Moon to Mars Objectives.
“We’re excited to be working with NASA on this project,” said Dr. Stefanie Tompkins, director of DARPA. “The space domain is critical to modern commerce, scientific discovery, and national security. The ability to accomplish leap-ahead advances in space technology through the DRACO nuclear thermal rocket program will be essential for more efficiently and quickly transporting material to the Moon and eventually, people to Mars.”
The last nuclear thermal rocket engine tests conducted by the United States occurred over 50 years ago under NASA’s Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application and Rover projects. With this collaboration, NASA and DARPA will use their experience gained from many previous space nuclear power and propulsion projects.
“Recent aerospace materials and engineering advancements are enabling a new era for space nuclear technology, and this flight demonstration will be a major achievement toward establishing a space transportation capability for an Earth-Mars journey,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
So, it looks like NASA and DARPA are teaming up to make interplanetary travel faster and safer, which is great news for anyone who’s ever dreamed of taking a vacation on Mars. Let’s just hope they don’t forget the sunscreen.