Science Simplified 2/8/23

By Reagan Oliver, Staff Writer

When planning your summer vacation in 2027, keep Mars in mind. 

NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a plan last week to test and launch a nuclear-powered rocket engine in space as early as 2027. 

The agencies report that nuclear engines promise higher thrust and efficiency than conventional ones. This will allow the rocket to gain enough momentum and power to travel faster with bigger holding capacities, like human beings.

The faster travel time will also reduce the risk for space travelers. Although NASA has experimented with nuclear engines since the 1960s, none have been deemed acceptable for space. 

This engine is powered by low-enriched uranium. The engine will use uranium and the fission reactor will heat and vaporize liquid propellants, shooting the gasses out of a nozzle to provide thrust. 

NASA will provide the engine and DARPA will provide the experimental spacecraft that will carry the engine.

 “NASA has a long history of collaborating with DARPA on projects that enable our respective missions, such as in-space servicing,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said. “Expanding our partnership to nuclear propulsion will help drive forward NASA’s goal to send humans to Mars.” 

The two agencies share the ultimate goal of sending commercial flights to Mars.