NASA, DARPA Partner on Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Tech Demonstration Program

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NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have teamed up on a program that seeks to build and demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket engine that could support future manned missions to Mars.

Under the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations program, DARPA will serve as the contracting authority for the development of the entire stage and nuclear thermal engine and manage rocket systems integration and procurement, security, scheduling, approvals, cover safety and liability, the space agency said Tuesday.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared that the two agencies will work together to demonstrate the nuclear thermal propulsion system through the DRACO program as early as 2027.

NASA’s space technology mission directorate will oversee technical development work on the engine for integration with DARPA’s experimental spacecraft.

“The ability to accomplish leap-ahead advances in space technology through the DRACO nuclear thermal rocket program will be essential for more efficiently and quickly transporting material to the Moon and eventually, people to Mars,” commented DARPA Director Stefanie Tompkins.

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