(Nu)clear the Way: The Future of Nuclear Propulsion is Here

(Nu)clear the Way: The Future of Nuclear Propulsion is Here

April 09, 2024


New Propulsion on the Block

Space is big. Really big. And traveling the vast distances between planets and stars requires a lot of time and energy. Traditional chemical propulsion engines can get us to the Moon in about three days and Mars in approximately seven months.

But with new propulsion technologies like nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP), Lockheed Martin is looking to cut those travel times significantly thanks to the high-efficiency thrust created by the NTP system. (Two-to-five times more efficient than traditional chemical propulsion, in fact.)


How does nuclear thermal propulsion work? Is it safe?

A nuclear reactor quickly heats super cold hydrogen propellant to a very high-temperature in a fraction of a second, creating a high-pressure gas. That gas is then funneled through the engine nozzle, creating a powerful and efficient thrust.
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DRACO engine, designed by Lockheed Martin for DARPA and NASA, firing its engine high above Earth during a technology demonstration


So, what’s next for NTP?

Currently under development and testing, this amazing technology is set to be demonstrated onboard DARPA and NASA’s DRACO project, which will be designed and built by Lockheed Martin, as early as 2027. NTP will power us into the future of deep space exploration as we set our eyes on the Moon, Mars and beyond.