Military Embedded Systems

Nuclear-powered spacecraft to be built for DARPA, NASA by Lockheed Martin


July 27, 2023

Dan Taylor

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Image courtesy Lockheed Martin

DENVER, Colorado. Lockheed Martin has won a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop and demonstrate a nuclear-powered spacecraft as part of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) project, according to a company statement.

The initiative aims for rapid progress in propulsion technology that will facilitate space exploration and strengthen national defense, and the contract involves an in-space flight demonstration of a nuclear thermal rocket engine vehicle, slated to occur by or before 2027, the company says.

Lockheed Martin's work on the DRACO project is being conducted in partnership with NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. The technology is intended to enhance the capability of spacecraft to travel faster and farther, and will reduce propellant requirements, the statement reads.

The development of nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) engines, which provide high thrust and two-to-five times higher efficiency than traditional chemical propulsion engines, will be crucial for future Mars missions, the statement adds.

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