DARPA awards nuclear spacecraft contracts to Lockheed Martin, Bezos’ Blue Origin and Normal Atomics

An artist’s rendering of a DRACO spacecraft.


The Pentagon’s analysis and growth arm on Monday awarded a trio of corporations with contracts to construct and exhibit a nuclear-based propulsion system on a spacecraft in orbit by 2025.

Normal Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezos’ area enterprise Blue Origin received the Protection Superior Analysis Tasks Company or DARPA awards, underneath the company’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations program or DRACO.

The objective of this system is deceptively easy: Use a nuclear thermal propulsion system to energy a spacecraft past low Earth orbit.

The Pentagon’s analysis and growth company says a nuclear powered spacecraft has the potential to attain each the excessive energy of an chemical-based propulsion system and the excessive effectivity of an electrical-powered system.

“This mixture would give a DRACO spacecraft larger agility to implement the Division of Protection’s core tenet of fast maneuver in cislunar area (between the Earth and moon),” the company mentioned.

The contracts awarded to the businesses are for the primary 18-month part of this system, with two tracks.

In Observe A, Normal Atomics will deal with the preliminary design of a nuclear thermal reactor and the idea for a propulsion subsystem, with its contract price $22.2 million.

In Observe B, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin–awarded $2.5 million and $2.9 million, respectively–will every develop spacecraft idea designs.

“Nuclear thermal propulsion is a transformative know-how that can dramatically change the way in which spacecraft will function, growing agility and permitting extra environment friendly journey to Mars and past in far much less time than typical propulsion techniques,” Invoice Pratt, Lockheed Martin Area’s supervisor of Human Exploration Superior Packages, mentioned in a press release to CNBC. “Quite a lot of work was finished on nuclear propulsion in earlier many years and we’ll leverage that experience as we mix it with fashionable digital engineering fashionable spacecraft design and creativity to advance this new functionality.”

Whereas the protection big is commonly centered on this sort of Pentagon work, this award represents a brand new nationwide safety contract for Bezos’ firm–which is targeted on quite a lot of area initiatives, together with its tourism rocket New Shepard, a giant reusable rocket called New Glenn, and an astronaut lunar lander for NASA.

“Blue Origin is happy to help DARPA in maturing spacecraft ideas for this vital know-how space,” Brent Sherwood, the corporate’s senior vice chairman of superior growth packages, mentioned in a press release to CNBC.

DARPA expects the primary part of DRACO work to be finished by late 2022, with following phases to be up for grabs.

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