Lockheed Martin tasked with developing nuclear-powered spacecraft


Concept art of a Demonstration for Rocket to Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) nuclear-powered spacecraft. [DARPA]


JULY 31, 2023  


Lockheed Martin was recently announced as the prime contractor by NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) to design and build a nuclear-powered spacecraft for in-orbit demonstration.


As the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin will develop an experimental nuclear thermal rocket vehicle (X-NTRV) and engine. If successful, the demonstration could pave the way for nuclear propulsion systems to be used for deep space exploration.


The project will have several other participants. The U.S. Space Force will provide the launch vehicle for the X-NTRV, the U.S. Department of Energy will provide high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) to be processed into fuel, and BWX Technologies will develop the nuclear reactor and process the HALEU into fuel.


The craft is undergoing development as part of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program and could be ready for testing in 2027. 


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