January 30, 2023

NASA to test nuclear rocket engine for possible Mars missions

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A nuclear thermal rocket engine in development could one day carry humans to Mars.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a research arm of the US Department of Defense, and NASA are eyeing a type of rocket engine that could be the holy grail for getting humans to the Red Planet quickly and safely. . According to Tuesday, the first tests could happen as soon as 2027. News release From the space agency

DARPA Director Dr. Stephanie Tompkins said, “DARPA and NASA have a long history of fruitful collaboration in advancing technologies for our respective goals, from the Saturn V rocket to the first manned robotic service on the Moon and took up the refueling of satellites.” “The space domain is critical to modern commerce, scientific discovery, and national security,” a statement said.

The US military and NASA tried to develop this type of technology. In the middle of the 20th centuryBut the program stopped. Now, the initiative In modern times, the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cyclone Operations, or DRACO, program is gaining new traction.

Research in nuclear thermal rocket engines by NASA It started In 1959 A major program in the 1960s, called Nuclear Engines for Rocket Vehicle Applications, even attempted to demonstrate the technology in space – but it never came to fruition.

According to the space agency’s website, “However, funding for NERVA dwindled in the late 1960s and the program was canceled in 1973 before any engine flight tests were conducted.”

These days, NASA has once again expressed interest in sending humans to the Red Planet. The space agency’s Artemis program, which was inaugurated. Unmanned test flight to the moon last yeardirects the space agency to send humans back to the surface of the Moon as a stepping stone to eventually putting the first humans on Mars.

“Recent aerospace materials and engineering advances are enabling a new era for space nuclear technology, and this flight demonstration will be a major breakthrough toward establishing a space transportation capability for the Earth-Moon economy,” ” Jim Ritter, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission. Directorate, said in a Statement.

As the name suggests, a nuclear thermal engine would rely on a nuclear reactor, which uses a process called nuclear fission – in which a neutron tears apart an atom, creating a powerful chain reaction. Initiates action – to heat and deliver propellant. Thrust is required to propel a rocket into space. (The process of nuclear fission is better known in the public consciousness for its role in energy production and for NASA. It had previously signed an agreement with the US Department of Energy. to investigate its applications to space travel.).

The process, according to NASA, is three or more times more efficient than the chemical propulsion used by rockets, in which an explosive fuel is mixed with an oxidizer to ignite the thrust. More efficient nuclear propulsion could allow spacecraft to cover the 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) average distance between Earth and Mars much faster than is possible today, NASA said, adding to what astronauts would encounter. The amount of time can be greatly reduced. Dangerous radiation levels on future deep space missions.

under contract with DARPA—which is perhaps best known for its role in this. Laying the groundwork for the Internet – NASA will lead the technical development of the new engine. DARPA will design an experimental spacecraft as well as lead the overall program. The contract.

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