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DARPA eyes nuclear power for spacecraft

24th May 2021 - 09:00 GMT | by Gerrard Cowan in Belfast

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DRACO aims to demonstrate nuclear thermal propulsion in cislunar space. (Photo: DARPA)

Recently introduced reforms could enable the first demonstration flight of a nuclear thermal propulsion rocket in 2025.

A new DARPA programme focused on nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP)-powered spacecraft has significant implications for the domain, helping support the development of platforms with far greater agility and manoeuvrability in cislunar space between the Earth and the Moon.

DARPA awarded several contracts for the first phase of its Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) programme in mid-April 2021. The aim is to demonstrate an NTP system above low Earth orbit in 2025.

USAF Maj Nathan Greiner, programme manager for DRACO, said that NTP systems offer a combination of high thrust-to-weight, leading to better acceleration and high specific impulse (known …

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