There have been a few different exciting developments in the nuclear physics space in recent months and years. Between small reactors designed to power large cities and small towns, to recent advances in nuclear fusion, this dangerous but highly impactful form of science has been fascinating to follow.
And in this spirit, NASA has decided to delve into nuclear space as well, having now signed a contract with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create a flyable nuclear thermal propulsion system.
This system will hopefully enable NASA to better achieve its goals of deep space exploration and exploration, as well as putting humans on Mars. As stated in the press release, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson adds:
“NASA will work with our long-term partner, DARPA, to develop and demonstrate advanced nuclear thermal propulsion technology as early as 2027. Using this new technology, astronauts will be able to travel to and from deep space faster than ever before – an important capability to prepare for manned missions to Mars. “
It is also said that this technology will make it possible to carry larger payloads on missions, which should also expand the range of communications on spacecraft.
How the system will work will revolve around a nuclear fission reactor that will generate high temperatures, which can then be used to heat a liquid propellant to fuel and power a spacecraft. In theory, this should be three or more times more efficient than systems used today.