General Atomics got a $22 million contract to design a small nuclear reactor for space propulsion. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded the contract.
General Atomics: DRACO is the First Phase of the Program
Based in San Diego, California, General Atomics was choosing for the first phase of the program. It is knowing as DRACO. This is short for a demonstration rocket for agile, flexible cislunar operations. Moreover, the project is to demonstrate nuclear thermal propulsion. That is the use of a nuclear reactor to heat up rocket fuel to generate upward thrust. In May 2020, DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office had, in fact, requesting proposals in a “broad agency announcement.” The goal is to test a nuclear thermal propulsion system in orbit by 2025 is the goal.
In use today, are space propulsion include electric and chemical propulsion. There may be other options that might be needed for the future that as exploration is beyond Earth’s orbit, DARPA has noted. “To develop novel nuclear thermal propulsion technology is what the DRACO program does intend. NTP can achieve high thrust-to-weights similar to chemical propulsion but with two to five times the efficiency unlike propulsion technologies in use today.
Monitor Cislunar Space
The volume of space between the Earth and the moon is the ability to monitor cislunar space. In fact, it will require a “leap-ahead in propulsion technology,” said DARPA.
Demonstrating a nuclear thermal propulsion system on orbit is what the DRACO program will attempt to do. There is a nuclear reactor that is going to heat the propellant to extreme temperatures before expelling the hot propellant through a nozzle to produce thrust.
There is a nuclear thermal propulsion that is “leaping forward of conventional propulsion technology. Moreover, it will enable spacecraft to travel vast distances quickly.” This statement comes Christina Back. She is the vice president of nuclear technologies at General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems.
Space Domain Awareness
“In order to maintain space domain awareness, agile spacecrafts are critical. In fact, this reduces transit times in the huge cislunar region,” Beck said in a statement.