NASA will finance three projects to develop a concept of a nuclear space engine

Together with the US Department of Energy, the space agency NASA is making efforts to develop space nuclear technologies. A government team selected three proposals for a draft reactor concept for a nuclear thermal propulsion system. The reactor is a critical component of a nuclear heat engine that will use highly enriched uranium fuel.

The nuclear propulsion system is expected to provide greater fuel efficiency compared to chemical rocket engines. It’s a potential technology for human-crewed and cargo missions to Mars and scientific missions outside the solar system. In many cases, it will allow you to perform faster and more reliable missions.

Each contract, which will be concluded through the Idaho National Laboratory of the US Department of Energy, is estimated at $ 5 million. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory will award 12-month contracts to three companies. Each of them will develop a conceptual design of the reactor, which can meet the needs of future missions.

  • BWX Technologies is from Lynchburg, Virginia. The company will cooperate with Lockheed Martin.
  • General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems of San Diego. The company will partner with X-energy LLC and Aerojet Rocketdyne.
  • Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies from Seattle. The company will partner with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, Blue Origin, General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy, General Electric Research, Framatome and Materion.

At the end of the contract period, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory will review the reactor concept project and provide recommendations to NASA. NASA will use this information to lay the groundwork for future technology design and development.

NASA is also developing a core fission-based power system designed for use on the surface of the Moon and Mars. The space agency intends to cooperate with the US Department of Energy to prepare a request for proposals from potential contractors. Representatives of the industry will be able to provide their projects of the 10 kW class system, which NASA could implement on the moon’s surface.

Earlier, DARPA selected three contractors for the DRACO program – creating a nuclear power plant for near space.

Source: NASA