NASA and the Pentagon will develop a nuclear-powered rocket to go to Mars

The NASA logo at the Kennedy Space Center before the NASA/SpaceX launch of a commercial crew mission to the International Space Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, United States, April 16, 2021. JOE SKIPPER / REUTERS

This type of rocket could be three to four times more efficient than conventional fuel rockets, and reduce travel time.

NASA announced Tuesday, January 20 a partnership with the Pentagon to develop a rocket powered by nuclear energy and intended to send humans to Mars.

Space agency boss Bill Nelson said he is partnering with the US military’s research agency, Darpa, to “develop and test advanced nuclear thermal propulsion technology from 2027“.

Traveling “faster than ever”

With the help of this technology, astronauts could travel to and from deep space faster than ever before“, a capability needed to conduct manned missions to Mars, he said, quoted in a statement.

Darpa, the scientific arm of the American army, is at the origin of many innovations of the 20th century, including the Internet. According to NASA, a nuclear-powered thermal rocket could be three to four times more efficient than conventionally fueled rockets and reduce travel time, an essential part of getting to the Red Planet.

In a thermal nuclear rocket, a nuclear fission reactor produces very high temperatures. This heat is transferred to liquid fuel, turned into gas and – as in a conventional rocket – this is expelled through a nozzle to provide thrust. “Darpa and NASA have a long history of successful collaborations,said the director of the military research agency Stefanie Tompkins, citing as an example the Saturn V rocket, which sent the Apollo missions to the Moon.

The development of this new type of launcherwill be crucial to more quickly and efficiently transport equipment to the Moon and, subsequently, people to Mars“, she added. NASA conducted tests of a nuclear rocket more than 50 years ago, but the project was halted due to budget cuts and Cold War tensions.

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