The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has actually chosen 3 huge space companies for the very first stage of a bigger task to test nuclear propulsion above low Earth orbit by 2025.
General Atomics, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin each got agreements for the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program’s very first stage. While DARPA did not reveal the agreement worths in its statement, media outlet Space News reported General Atomics got $22 million, Lockheed Martin $2.9 million and Blue Origin $2.5 million.
The groups were picked due to their capability to establish and release innovative systems for reactors, propulsion and spacecraft, DARPA authorities stated in a declaration. The firm especially highlighted the requirement for “rapid maneuver” for military systems however stated this is hard in space with traditional systems.
Related: US military eyes nuclear thermal rocket for objectives in Earth-moon space
“Current electric and chemical space propulsion systems have drawbacks in thrust-to-weight and propellent efficiency,” the firm stated in the very same release, including that nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) is anticipated to address these typical issues.
NTP systems utilize fission reactors that warm up propellants (such as hydrogen) to heats, gushing the gas at high speed through nozzles for thrust. The thrust-to-weight ratio with NTP has to do with 10,000 times greater than electrical propulsion systems, and propellant effectiveness (likewise referred to as particular impulse) is anywhere from 2 to 5 times higher than traditional chemical rockets, DARPA authorities composed in a description of the DRACO program.
The very first stage of the program has 2 tracks, lasting 18 months, with each business pursuing various courses. Track A includes the initial style of the nuclear thermal propulsion reactor, in addition to the propulsion subsystem. Track B will produce an “operational system spacecraft concept” to satisfy future objective goals, consisting of a presentation system.
Track A reactor advancement will be carried out by General Atomics, while Track B work will be pursued individually by Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin, DARPA included. “DRACO’s Phase 1 is expected to inform follow-on phases for detailed design, fabrication, and on-orbit demonstration. Any follow-on phases will be solicited by DARPA in a future announcement,” the firm stated.
This month’s DARPA statement follows on from a $14 million job order for DRACO granted to Gryphon Technologies, a business in Washington, D.C. that offers engineering and technical options to nationwide security companies, in September 2020.
The previous NASA administration likewise revealed interest in the capacity of nuclear propulsion, specifically for slicing the travel time to Mars by half to about 3 or 4 months, compared to chemical propulsion. The firm has stated it hopes to get astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s.
“That is absolutely a game-changer for what NASA is trying to achieve,” previous NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine stated throughout a conference of the National Space Council in 2019. (*3*) he included.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.