A man on Mars is one step closer to reality: NASA announces plans for a nuclear missile that will reduce travel time by seven months
NASA revealed Tuesday that it is building a nuclear-powered rocket that could send humans to Mars much faster than a conventional rover — it currently takes seven months to reach the Red Planet.
The US space agency has partnered with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program to be tested in 2027.
A nuclear thermonuclear missile (NTR) provides a high thrust-to-weight ratio about 10,000 times greater than electric propulsion and an efficiency two to five times greater than chemical propulsion in space.
The team plans to use previous NTR models to design DRACO, while giving it a modern twist—the technology was last tested on the ground more than 50 years ago.
NASA and DARPA are working on a nuclear rocket that could get humans to Mars faster — dramatically shortening the current seven-month journey.
The space agency has studied the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion for decades.
This technology feeds heat from a nuclear fission reactor into a hydrogen propellant to provide thrust that is believed to be much more efficient than conventional chemical-based rocket engines.
Besides a faster transit, the groups said NTR will reduce risks to astronauts because they won’t be traveling through space for as long.
This will greatly reduce the time astronauts are exposed to deep space radiation and will require fewer supplies, such as food and other cargo, during a trip to Mars.
NASA is looking forward to the late 2030s when it will send humans to the world of Mars.
“If we have faster flights for humans, it’s safer flights,” NASA Deputy Administrator and former astronaut Pam Milroy said Tuesday.
NTR transfers heat from the reactor directly to the gaseous hydrogen fuel.
The heated hydrogen expands through a nozzle to provide thrust to propel a spacecraft.
The materials inside a fission reactor must be able to withstand temperatures above 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit.
NASA has had NTR on its radar for more than 60 years and first embarked on the mission in 1961.
That led NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center director and rocket pioneer, Werner von Braun, to call for a proposed mission, sending dozens of crew members to Mars aboard two rockets.
Each missile will be propelled by three nuclear rocket vehicle applications (NERVA) engines—designs formulated in 1961.
As detailed by von Braun, this crew would blast off to the Red Planet in November 1981 and land on that distant world in August 1982.
In presenting his visionary plan in August 1969 to the Space Mission Group, von Braun explained that ‘although carrying out this mission would be a great national challenge, it is no greater than the commitment made in 1961 to landing a man on the Moon’ . “.
However, this vision of human boots on Mars ended in 1972 when priorities changed and space budgets were cut.
A nuclear-powered rocket would significantly reduce the time astronauts are exposed to deep space radiation and require fewer supplies, such as food and other cargo, during a trip to Mars.
Fast forward to the present, and NASA is back on the Red Planet path and has asked the US government for help to make it happen.
“DARPA and NASA have a long history of fruitful collaboration in developing technologies to achieve our own goals, from the Saturn V rocket that took humans to the Moon for the first time, to the robotic service,” Dr. Stephanie Tompkins, DARPA Administrator, said in a statement. Satellite refueling.
The space field is critical to modern commerce, scientific discovery, and national security.
“The ability to make leaps and bounds in advances in space technology through the DRACO thermonuclear rocket program will be essential to more efficiently and quickly transport materials to the Moon and eventually, people to Mars.”