A match between veteran Lockheed Martin and Amazon billionaire upstart Blue Origin. Now it is clear that the two will fight for Darpa’s favor for a contract on a new rocket.
The US Department of Defense Development and Research, Darpa, has been running the Draco (demonstration rocket for agile cislunar operation) program for some time. In the program, the authority wants to get a rocket that uses a nuclear reactor for propulsion – a system called “nuclear thermal propulsion” (NTP).
General Atomics has been awarded a contract to develop the reactor itself. Defense giant Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezoz’s space tourism company Blue Origin will each develop their own rocket concept. The goal is to have a rocket with nuclear power that can be used in space by 2025.
Darpa believes that this type of propulsion technology will be important to be able to travel long distances in space.
Get quickly between the moon and the earth
The authority states that fast maneuvers in space have traditionally been challenging because current electric and chemical rocket propulsion systems have downsides when it comes to the relationship between lift and weight and the efficiency of the fuel.
The NTP system has the potential to have the same lifting power as with chemical fuels, but at the same time the efficiency of the electrical systems. The combination will give spacecraft the opportunity to move quickly between the earth and the moon.
– NTP technology aims to be the basis for future space travel, says Major Nathan Greiner, program manager for Draco in a statement.
In the first phase, which is 18 months, Draco will run in two tracks. The one for which General Atomic won the contract takes on the task of designing the NTP reactor and the underlying propulsion system.
The second track will be operated by Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin independently. The goal is for it to lead to a space rocket concept that meets the requirements. After that, both will build a demonstration system of their concepts.