NASA to test a nuclear fission spacecraft engine

NASA to test a nuclear fission spacecraft engine
NASA to test a nuclear fission spacecraft engine
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The United States plans to test a nuclear fission-powered spacecraft engine by 2027, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Tuesday, as part of NASA’s long-term effort to explore more efficient ways to send astronauts to Mars in the future.

Nelson said at a conference in National Harbor, Maryland, that NASA will partner with the US Army Research and Development Agency to develop a nuclear heat propulsion engine and launch it into space “as soon as possible by 2027.”

NASA has been studying the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion for decades in order to provide thrust that is believed to be far more efficient than conventional chemical-based rocket engines.

NASA officials see nuclear thermal propulsion as crucial to sending humans beyond the moon and deeper into space.

Engineers say a trip to Mars from Earth using this technology could take about four months instead of about nine using a conventional chemical-powered engine.

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This will significantly reduce the time astronauts are exposed to deep space radiation, and will also require fewer supplies, such as food and other cargo, during a trip to Mars.

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“The faster the trips into space, the safer,” said NASA Deputy Administrator and former astronaut Pam Milroy.

In 2021, the US Army Research and Development Agency awarded funds to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin to study designs for nuclear reactors and spacecraft.

By around March, the agency will select a company to build a nuclear spacecraft for the 2027 plan, said program director Tabitha Dodson.

The NASA and agency plan has a budget of $110 million for fiscal year 2023, and is expected to increase by hundreds of millions of dollars through 2027.

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