NASA announced today that it has partnered with DARPA to develop DRACO (Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations), a nuclear-powered rocket that could be used for future manned missions to Mars. A nuclear thermal rocket makes sense because it allows for faster transit time and increased science payload capacity, all the while reducing risk for astronauts.
Photo credit: James Vaughan
How would it work? The nuclear thermal rocket engine basically consists of a fission reactor that generates extremely high temperatures. The engine then transfers the heat produced by the reactor to a liquid propellant, which is expanded and exhausted through a nozzle for propulsion. These types of rockets can be up to three or more times more efficient than traditional chemical propulsion methods.
NASA will work with our long-term partner, DARPA, to develop and demonstrate advanced nuclear thermal propulsion technology as soon as 2027. With the help of this new technology, astronauts could journey to and from deep space faster than ever – a major capability to prepare for crewed missions to Mars. Congratulations to both NASA and DARPA on this exciting investment, as we ignite the future, together,” said Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator.