NASA and DARPA join forces for a Nuclear boost to Mars mission
NASA and DARPA are joining forces to blast off into the future with their latest project, the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations, or DRACO for short. With the help of this nuclear thermal rocket engine, astronauts could soar to the red planet faster than a shooting star. And, as if that wasn’t impressive enough, they expect the engine to be three times more efficient than traditional chemical propulsion systems.
The partnership between NASA and DARPA is set to ignite the future, and according to NASA’s Administrator Bill Nelson, it’s “an exciting investment”. NASA will lead the technical development of the engine, while DARPA will act as the contracting authority and oversee all aspects of the program, including procurement, security, and safety.
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) will work with DARPA to assemble the engine before the in-space demonstration, which is expected to take place as early as 2027. This collaboration marks the return of nuclear thermal rocket engines to the United States, with the last tests conducted over 50 years ago.
The benefits of this new technology are out of this world. With a faster transit time, astronauts will face less risk and be able to embark on longer missions. The increased science payload capacity and higher power for instrumentation and communication will also pave the way for more discoveries in deep space.
NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) are also developing advanced space nuclear technologies for other initiatives, including the Fission Surface Power project and commercial design efforts for nuclear power plants and nuclear thermal propulsion engines.
The space domain is a crucial area for modern commerce, scientific discovery, and national security, and with the DRACO program, NASA and DARPA are hoping to make a leap-ahead advance in space technology. The future looks bright, and with this collaboration, the sky’s the limit!