NASA will collaborate with DARPA, the research and development arm of the US military, to create nuclear-powered rockets that could transport astronauts to Mars.
According to NASA, this might result in spacecraft moving more quickly, a shorter transit time, and other advantages like bigger payloads for missions.
As early as 2027, according to Administrator Bill Nelson, the US space agency might “create and demonstrate advanced nuclear thermal propulsion technologies.”
In order to get ready for crewed missions to Mars, Nelson claimed that the new technology would allow astronauts to travel to and from deep space more quickly than ever before.
Engineers estimate that a trip to Mars from Earth may take around four months with the technology, as opposed to about nine months with a conventional, chemically driven engine.
Complications with nuclear safety
About 50 years ago, NASA gave up on nuclear thermal propulsion due to a shortage of funds and a change in focus to the development of chemical rocket engines for the Apollo programme.
Added worries centred on safety
In place of highly enriched uranium, DARPA now claims to use high-assay low-enriched uranium.
DARPA stated in a statement that it intended to construct the system so that the fission reaction of the DRACO engine would only activate once it reached space as an additional safety measure.
Nuclear thermal rocket engine is being tested
Last year, NASA successfully tested its modern Artemis spacecraft, the first step toward returning people to the moon and eventually Mars.
However, DARPA’s experimental spacecraft would be used for the initial testing of the nuclear thermal rocket engine. The demonstration mission will be launched by the US Space Force.
Before remotely testing the full-power rocket engine, DARPA’s Tabitha Dodson stated, “We will conduct numerous experiments with the reactor at various power levels while in orbit, sending results to operators on Earth.”
A manned mission to orbit the moon will be launched by NASA as part of the Artemis programme this year, and “the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024” will make their lunar landing.
By the end of the 2030s, according to NASA, the organization may be prepared to send people to Mars.