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Defence Notes

DARPA eyes nuclear propulsion for cislunar space-based surveillance

12th April 2021 - 11:36 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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General Atomics is working on the first phase of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) programme.

DARPA has issued a $22.16 million contract to General Atomics for Track A in the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) programme.

Work is scheduled for completion by October 2022, the DoD announced on 9 April.

DRACO is a plan for the US to maintain space domain awareness between the Earth and the Moon, using a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system on orbit.

According to the DARPA website: ‘NTP uses a nuclear reactor to heat propellant to extreme temperatures before expelling the hot propellant through a nozzle to produce thrust. Compared to conventional space propulsion technologies, NTP offers a high thrust-to-weight ratio around 10,000 times greater than electric propulsion and two-to-five times greater specific impulse (i.e. propellant efficiency) than chemical propulsion.’

Track A of DRACO involves baseline design of an NTP reactor. It will be followed by Track B (development of an operational system concept and a demonstration system with technology maturation plan).

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