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DARPA Nuclear Spacecraft Deals for Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin

: Apr 16, 2021 - : 2:45 am

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded contracts to Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin to develop competing spacecraft concepts for a demonstration of nuclear thermal propulsion. Earlier, the  agency selected General Atomics to develop the nuclear reactor.

The three companies will work for Project DRACO (demonstration rocket for agile cislunar operations) to demonstrate nuclear thermal propulsion technology, which is the use of a nuclear reactor to heat up rocket fuel to generate thrust. The awards for General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin are worth US$22 million, US$2.9 million and $US2.5 million respectively.

According to DARPA, a nuclear powered spacecraft has the potential to achieve both the high power of an chemical-based propulsion system and the high efficiency of an electrical-powered system. “This combination would give a DRACO spacecraft greater agility to implement the Department of Defense’s core tenet of rapid maneuver in cislunar space (between the Earth and moon),” it added.

The first phase of the program will last 18 months and will focus on General Atomics’ reactor and propulsion subsystem concepts. In the second phase, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin will independently develop spacecraft concept designs.


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