WASHINGTON: In preparation for sending astronauts to Mars, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is working with a Pentagon research agency to develop a nuclear-powered rocket engine.
On Tuesday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US space agency will collaborate to “develop and demonstrate advanced nuclear thermal propulsion technology as soon as 2027.”
Nelson made the following statement: “With the help of this new technology, astronauts could travel to and from deep space faster than ever — a major capability to prepare for crewed missions to Mars.”
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the Pentagon’s research and development arm. It has been involved in a lot of the notable innovations of the 20th century, including the internet.
According to NASA, nuclear thermal rockets would shorten the transit time, which is crucial for a future mission to Mars. These rockets could be three or more times more effective than conventional chemical propulsion.
A fission reactor is used to produce extremely high temperatures in a nuclear thermal engine.
The reactor’s heat is transferred to the liquid propellant, which turns into a gas and expands through a nozzle to give the rocket its thrust.
According to DARPA director Stefanie Tompkins, “DARPA and NASA have a long history of fruitful collaboration,” she cited the Saturn V rocket that carried the first astronauts to the Moon.
Tompkins stated, “The nuclear thermal rocket program will be essential for transporting material to the Moon and, eventually, people to Mars with greater efficiency and speed.”
More than 50 years ago, NASA conducted its final tests of nuclear thermal rocket engines. However, the program was scrapped due to budget cuts and tensions from the Cold War.