The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has allocated $ 14 million to Gryphon Technologies to develop a nuclear weapon propulsion system for the US military. Part of DARPA’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, High-Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) system will be used to enable the military to carry out missions in cislunar space, which means the area between the earth and the moon’s orbit.
“A successfully demonstrated NTP system will provide a step forward in space propulsion capability, enabling smooth and fast long-distance transit compared to current propulsion methods,”; said Tabitha Dodson, Gryphon’s Chief Technology Officer and a national NTP system expert. statement.
The militarization of space, which this time largely involves the United States and China, has been in the news in recent years in a way it has not done since the decades-old space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The idea of using nuclear propulsion to power spacecraft is that a nuclear reactor used to heat a fuel such as hydrogen to extreme temperatures, before being expelled through a nozzle to create traction, can be significantly more efficient than current chemical rockets. It would also have a pressure-to-weight ratio that is reportedly 10,000 times greater than electric propulsion.
The concept of using nuclear reactors in space is not new, but this work from DARPA shows how seriously it is now being taken here in 2020.
“Gryphon is committed to providing advanced technical solutions to our nations’ most critical national security challenges,” said PJ Braden, CEO of Gryphon, in a statement. “We are proud to support DRACO and the development and demonstration of NTP, a significant technological advance in the pursuit of cislunar space awareness.”
No timeline has been given for when we can expect a nuclear reactor to power the next generation of spacecraft. One thing is certain, however: Between this, the rise of Space Force, NASA ordering private companies to retrieve space resources and the continued work of companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, space exploration is about as fast and full of promise as it has been for many years. .