The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a $14 million task order to Gryphon Technologies to support development of a rocket that can use nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) in Earth orbit, reports Space.com.
The rocket would use fission reactors to heat propellants to extreme temperatures and eject the gas through nozzles to create thrust. The technology would have a thrust-to-weight ratio about 10,000 times higher than that of electric propulsion systems and a specific impulse, or propellant efficiency, two to five times that of traditional chemical rockets, DARPA documents say.
NASA has lauded the potential of NTP technology as well, suggesting that nuclear-powered spacecraft could reach Mars in three to four months, half the time needed by chemical rockets.
Gryphon Technologies, based in Washington, D.C., bills itself as providing engineering and technical solutions to national security organizations.
It’s encouraging to see how far NASA has come in its thinking.
My only gripe: NASA still sees planting an outpost on the Moon primarily as a stepping stone to Mars rather than the first stage in full-scale lunar colonization as an adjunct to exploiting cislunar space. Mars may have scientific value, but it has no strategic value. The Moon offers both.
Western economic sanctions following the annexation of Crimea and war in Ukraine have forced the Russian Federation to curtail its space program. But putting cosmonauts on the Moon is one goal that Russian space strategists refuse to give up,
Last week, reports Popular Mechanics, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that transforms the government agency of Roscosmos into a state corporation, similar to the nuclear conglomerate Rosatom. Meanwhile Russian engineers have been working on plans to revive the old Soviet dream of landing cosmonauts on the Moon.
Lunar expeditions would use four cheaper Angara boosters, which would pay for themselves by delivering commercial and military satellites in addition to flying cosmonauts. The expeditions would be cheaper than those planned by NASA with its behemoth SLS rocket, which is too big for most commercial purposes. According to Popular Mechanics, the Russian Moon-exploration program would proceed as follows:
“Unmanned flight testing of the new spacecraft in Earth orbit would start in 2021, followed by an automated docking at the International Space Station in 2023. In the same year, the first crew would fly the new ship to the ISS. more “Russians Still Determined to Land on the Moon”