NASA plans to construct the first operational rocket with a nuclear engine. And this will happen in this decade – by 2027. The project was presented by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on January 24 during a presentation at the scientific and technical forum and exhibition of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Nelson said that the nuclear rocket will be built jointly with the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). NASA hopes that nuclear thermal engines will allow the United States to expand the capabilities for future human spaceflight missions.
The program is aimed at developing a nuclear thermal engine used on the experimental spacecraft NTR (X-NTRV). DARPA will develop a nuclear reactor and an engine for a nuclear rocket, which the agency and NASA hope to launch as early as 2027. Nelson sees partnering with DARPA to use advanced engines for flights to Mars. Moreover, the flight to the Red Planet on such a power plant will take only 45 days.
Cancellation of the idea of nuclear engines
The idea of creating a nuclear rocket is about half a century old. NASA’s Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) program sought to launch a crewed mission to Mars in 1979, powered by a nuclear power plant. But the program was abruptly canceled in 1972 after the last Apollo mission to the Moon due to budget cuts and fears of an escalation of the Cold War.
Main target – Mars
In the XXI century, sending people to Mars has become one of the main goals of space flights. Moreover, both state space agencies and commercial space companies. NASA’s Artemis program is part of the agency’s project to land astronauts on Mars and create the first colony on the Red Planet.
At the same time, SpaceX says it will soon launch an orbital flight of its Starship spacecraft, which the company eventually plans to land on Mars. Other commercial space companies are also working to achieve this goal.
Earlier we reported on the TOP 5 most ambitious NASA space projects.
According to Space
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