DARPA selects contractors to develop nuclear thermal propulsion system

General Atomics, Blue Origin, and Lockheed Martin have been awarded DARPA contacts to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion demonstration mission.
The 18-month long phase one contracts includes the preliminary design for the reactor and the spacecraft it will power | Image credit: DARPA

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has selected General Atomics, Blue Origin, and Lockheed Martin to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) demonstration.

DARPA announced the selection of the mission’s primary contractors on April 12 as part of its Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program.

The primary goal of the DRACO program is to overcome the drawbacks of chemical and existing electric propulsion systems to enable greater agility and rapid maneuverability in cislunar space, a core tenet of the US Department of Defense.

“The NTP technology we seek to develop and demonstrate under the DRACO program aims to be foundational to future operations in space,” said Major Nathan Greiner, USAF, program manager for DRACO.

The 18-month phase one contracts will entail the preliminary design for an NTP reactor and the spacecraft it will power. General Atomics will lead the design of the reactor while Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin will jointly develop the spacecraft.

“This first phase of the DRACO program is a risk reduction effort that will enable us to sprint toward an on-orbit demonstration in later phases,” said Major Greiner.

Following the completion of the 19-month phase one contracts, DARPA is expected to make additional solicitations for detailed designs, fabrication and on-orbit demonstrations. The agency has proposed a maiden launch for the next-generation technology by 2025.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.