NASA is looking to design and test a Nuclear Thermal Rocket (NTR) Functional for 2027. To this end, they partnered with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which aimed to have an engine capable of being used in manned missions to Mars, and deep space travel ,faster than everAccording to the agency’s administrator, Bill Nelson.
In this collaboration, the two agencies will leverage DARPA’s demonstration rocket for the Agile Lunar Operations, or DRACO, program, which Launched in 2021 And he wants to demonstrate the technology in the classroom.
This allows for faster transit times, less travel risk and more space for astronauts. reduce the quantity supplied essential. Other benefits of this use are the ability to carry more scientific payloads, as well as more power for instrumentation and communications.
types of nuclear engines
Unlike conventional space propulsion technologies, NTRs use a nuclear reactor. heating the propellant to extreme temperatures before expelling it through a nozzle with which they generate thrust.
They boast a high thrust to weight ratio, about 10,000 times more that electric propulsion (as performed by the DART mission craft) and its specific impulse (i.e. the efficiency of its propellant) are two to five times more Compared to chemical propulsion in space.
Besides NTR, there is also another variant, electric nuclear propulsion, where the propellants are They are much more efficient than chemical rocketsbut with less emphasis.
Here reactors are used to generate electricity charge gas propellant such as xenon or kryptonpushing the ions through a thruster to propel the ship forward, accelerating it for extended periods of time for a fraction of the fuel compared to other high-thrust systems.
engine manufacturing process
NASA will handle development and manufacturing of the engine, while DARPA will Rights on Experimental NTR Vehicle (X-NTRV), the ship that will be propelled by this new propellant, will also be responsible for its operation and keeping it in orbit.
According to NASA, the last nuclear heat engine was tested by America. this was 50 years agoAs part of the NERVA program, which sought to launch a manned mission to Mars in 1979, powered by a nuclear rocket.
However, this program it was canceled in 1972 due to concerns about budget cuts and an escalation of the Cold War.
In addition to DARPA, NASA is also working with the Department of Energy on another project to harness energy in space exploration, which includes commercial design efforts. promoting high temperature fission fuelAs well as designs for reactors as part of another nuclear thermal propulsion engine, although these are still under development with the intention of higher engine performance, and will not be used in DRACO.
Let’s also remember that NASA has already detailed its official plans for the first humans to travel to Mars. will have a manned mission 30 days on the surface of the Red PlanetWith 217 outbound days and 403 return days for a journey of approximately one year and nine months.
However, at the time the agency also revealed that this is not yet possible with current engine technology, but with new developments such as propellants (in this case nuclear), the first access to the planet’s surface could be achieved.