The US research agency DARPA is now also cooperating with NASA in the development of a nuclear thermal propulsion system for spaceships. A first test is scheduled for 2027. Both institutions announced this. The US space agency is participating in the DARPA project DRACO (Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations), which was launched two years ago. A first test in orbit had originally been announced for 2025, but now there is talk of 2027 at the earliest. According to Spacenews, the test will take place at an altitude of at least 700 km to ensure that no radioactive material reaches Earth.
More and more research projects
Nuclear propulsion could significantly reduce travel times in space and thus reduce the risks for the crew, NASA explains the project. In addition, the payload could be increased with it, which could be used not only for scientific instruments but also for communication. In this specific case, it is about heating a liquid fuel with a nuclear reactor, which then provides propulsion. In this way, nuclear thermal missiles could be three to four times more efficient than conventional ones, writes NASA. What resources are now being put into development is not clear from the communication.
It has been known for a number of years that the US government is once again researching nuclear propulsion systems for spaceships after a break of several decades. DRACO was introduced in April 2021. The declared goal is to give a spaceship the ability to maneuver quickly in sublunar space – between the earth and the moon. Half a year ago it became known that the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), another research agency of the US military, is to develop special, nuclear-powered spaceships that are said to be agile and highly manoeuvrable in near-Earth space. In this project, tests of prototypes in space are also planned for 2027.
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