DARPA and NASA Aim to Test Nuclear Rocket by 2026
Aug. 08, 2023.
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The legendary Project Orion may finally go live – as a lunar rocket and interplanetary vehicle
The engine would drastically shorten trips to the Moon and Mars
The problem: chemical rockets are “limited by the fuel and oxygen they can carry.” Instead, you could use nuclear power, which “NASA and DARPA want to build, first as a prototype, then as a moon rocket, and finally as an interplanetary vehicle.”
“The old program put weapons-grade uranium-235 in the reactor, which is also off the agenda now. Instead, the design specifies much less enriched U-235. ‘It is safe to work around; it is safe to be around; it doesn’t need the protection measures that need to be a place for plutonium,’ says Anthony Calomino, a materials and structural scientist at NASA.”
On July 26, the agencies disclosed details of a project to do just that, nicknamed DRACO (Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations).
The plan: test the prototype in space, beginning in late 2026. If it works out, “the next step will be to build a lunar rocket … but the real payoff could come when the order is given to go to Mars.” (Note: “military dividends may flow.”)
The nuclear pulse propulsion concept is based on an idea from physicist/science-fiction writer Stanislaw Ulam, according to Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957 to 1965, a book by George Dyson, the son of Freeman Dyson, one of the leaders of the project.