NASA plans to test a nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027. The technology is looking for a solution for flights to deep space.
Director General of NASA Bill Nelson says that the space agency cooperates with Darpa, the research organization of the US armed forces. Space.com reported on the topic, among others.
NTP technology (Nuclear Thermal Propulsion) has been studied at NASA since the 1950s. The development of nuclear propulsion was stopped in the early 1970s when the Apollo program ended.
In nuclear thermal propulsion, the heat produced by the fission reaction vaporizes a propellant such as liquid hydrogen, which is fed through nozzles to produce a thrust that is believed to be much greater than conventional chemical rocket engines.
NASA considers nuclear propulsion to be of crucial importance in order to successfully send people deeper into space. With current rocket engines, the 458 million kilometer trip to Mars would take about seven months.
“With this new technology, astronauts could travel to deep space and back faster than ever before,” says Nelson.
Astronauts are exposed to radiation in space, so a shorter travel time would improve safety. At the same time, less supplies, such as food, would be consumed.
“If trips are faster, they’re safer,” NASA vice president and former astronaut Pam Melroy says.
The planned test flight is part of Darpa’s research program, which Nasa is now joining.