NASA and DARPA to test nuclear heat engine for manned mission to Mars

NASA and DARPA to test nuclear heat engine for manned mission to Mars

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NASA and DARPA will test a nuclear heat engine. Goal is to reduce travel time for manned mission to Mars

NASA Goes back to the old idea of ​​getting humans to Mars. she joins Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to test a nuclear thermal rocket engine in space with the aim of using this technology for manned missions to the Red Planet. In the words of NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, the agencies hope to “demonstrate the value of advanced nuclear thermal propulsion technology by 2027”. “With the help of this new technology, astronauts will be able to travel into deep space faster than ever before – a key capability in preparation for manned missions to Mars.”

NASA and DARPA to test nuclear heat engine

in the program Demonstration rocket for agile cislunar operations (Draco), the Space Technology Mission Directorate NASA will lead the technical development of this engine, which will be integrated into an experimental DARPA spacecraft. NASA states that nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) could allow spacecraft to travel faster, reducing the amount of reserves carried on long missions. An NTP engine can also free up space for instrumentation and communications for scientific equipment and other computing power.

Since the 1940s, scientists have considered the possibility of using nuclear energy to power space flight. The United States has conducted ground-based experiments since the early 1950s. Budget cuts and a change in priorities (such as a focus on the Space Shuttle program) forced NASA to abandon the project at the end of the year. Slight test flight out before being able to take off in 1972.

Goal is to reduce travel time for manned mission to Mars

Of course, there are risks with NTP engines, such as the potential dispersal of radioactive material into the environment if a problem occurs in the atmosphere or in orbit. Either way, NASA states that the higher the travel speed with these NTP engines, the lower the risk to astronauts. Due to this technology, the duration of the journey to Mars can be reduced by one fourth. Nuclear thermal rockets can be at least three times more efficient than conventional chemical propulsion methods.

NASA is also considering nuclear power to fuel its space exploration efforts. In 2018, it was conducting tests on a portable nuclear reactor in an effort to develop a system capable of powering habitats on Mars. Last year, NASA and the Department of Energy selected three companies to develop a fission generator that they could test on the Moon. DARPA and the Department of Defense have worked on other NTP engine projects in recent years.

At the same time, the United States has recently approved a small modular nuclear design for the first time. As gizmodo Reportedly, this design would take advantage of a nuclear generator about one-third the size of a standard reactor. Each module is capable of producing approximately 50 MW of power. This construction, which is the work of NuScale, could reduce the current cost and complexity of building nuclear power plants.