NASA announces development of a nuclear-powered rocket that could halve the time needed to reach Mars

Proyecto DRACO

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have announced that Lockheed Martin will be the prime contractor for the design, construction, and testing of a Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO).

This rocket will be able to reduce the time to reach the Red Planet, thus also reducing the complexity of the mission and the risk to the crew. It will also be twice as efficient as conventional chemical rockets, which means it requires much less propellant. It could therefore carry more equipment for scientific purposes and provide more power for instruments and communications systems.

Other partners involved in the agreement are: BWX Technologies responsible for the design and construction of the nuclear fission reactor that will power the engine and NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) responsible for the overall management and execution of the DRACO engine.

With a project budget of around $300 million, the first tests are expected to be carried out in 2027.

In addition to the DRACO programme, NASA is also working with the US Department of Energy and industry on other nuclear space technology initiatives, including Fission Surface Power, in an effort to explore other possible designs for future nuclear thermal spacecraft.

Source: NASA, DARPA Experts to Discuss Nuclear Rocket Program Developments