Aerospace firms win contracts to develop nuclear powered spacecraft

Aerospace firms win contracts to develop nuclear powered spacecraft

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The Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded a trio of contracts to major companies to advance small nuclear fission reactors. Manned missions to the Moon are possible because it only takes a few days to get there, but if we are ever going to venture further afield to destinations such as Mars – a trip which typically takes over 7 months – we are going to need a form of transportation capable of reaching its destination a lot quicker than is current viable via conventional rocket engines.Now as part of a long-term effort to solve this problem, The Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded new contracts to Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin and Westinghouse Government Services to develop small nuclear fission reactors for use in future spacecraft.

The move follows NASA’s announcement earlier this year of plans to develop a nuclear-powered rocket to make sending humans to Mars a feasible possibility. Introduced by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson during a presentation in January, the endeavor aimed to “develop and demonstrate advanced nuclear thermal propulsion, a revolutionary technology that will allow the United States to expand the possibilities for future human spaceflight missions.”

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Described by Nelson as a “major investment in getting to Mars”, the new rocket could fly as soon as 2027 and could become an integral part of efforts to land humans on Mars in the 2030s.

The fission reactors developed through the newly announced contracts, meanwhile, will eventually find their way into later stages of NASA’s Artemis program and then, most likely, to Mars as well.

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Whether or not miniature nuclear fission reactors are a genuinely viable way to open up the solar system to manned space travel, however, remains to be seen.

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