While POT preparing to return astronauts to the surface of the moon, he does not lose sight of his other great goal: get people to mars. For this reason, the US space agency announced a new alliance with DARPADefense Advanced Research Projects Agency, develop and demonstrate a fusion rocket.

The aim of this project is to make progress on a key point so that manned missions to Mars can materialize: to prove the feasibility of the fusion engine that promises to be faster and more efficient than the methods currently used. According to NASA, the use of a space rocket with this type of motorization will bring huge advantages both from a technical and safety point of view.

Reduced space travel time would mean fewer risks for astronauts, they said. Same, decisive space would be freed on ships allocate it to better instruments, more powerful communications equipment and more supplies for the survival of the crew, taking into account the extension of the campaign.

“In a fusion rocket engine, a fission reactor is used to generate extremely high temperatures. The engine transfers the heat generated by the reactor to liquid fuel, which is expanded and expelled through a nozzle to propel the spacecraft. Fusion rockets can be three or more times more efficient than conventional chemical propulsion,” NASA explains.

NASA and DARPA to develop fusion propulsion system

Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

The project announced by NASA and DARPA is really ambitious. Both agencies intend to hold a space demonstration of their fusion propulsion system. since 2027as the earliest date. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to achieve such an upcoming goal, given that we are only four years away. Although it is not surprising if the initiative suffers delays.

As for the hierarchy within this alliance, NASA to lead technical development of fusion propulsion. This will be done through the Space Technology Administration (STMD). For now, DARPA will provide an experimental spacecraft that will be used during space testing.

It is worth clarifying that this alliance between the two organizations was born to continue the already existing DARPA program called DRACO. It has been in development for several years now and the aforementioned agency is working alongside the US Department of Defense.

In fact, in 2021 Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company, won a contract to design a fusion-powered spacecraft capable of flying in low Earth orbit by 2025. While Lockheed Martin set a similar challenge.

In this way, it is not surprising that DARPA is pursuing a common program and act as a contractor at all stages. The latter includes the development of the rocket and the parts that make up the engines, including the fission reactor, among many other duties. As for the assembly of motorization, this task will be taken over by the engineers of both agencies.

It is important to remember that in 2020, General Atomics presented the concept of a fusion engine to NASA. Although it is not yet known whether this company will be one of the many participating in the DRACO program.


Photo: Glenn Research Center – NASA.

This is not the first time that a fusion engine has been discussed as a possibility to send manned missions to Mars. In fact, NASA already has considerable experience in developing this type of propulsion for spacecraft. although he was never able to test them in space. The latter is what the DARPA alliance is trying to fix.

The latest history of NASA and fusion space rockets dates back to the program NERVA (Nuclear engine for rocket engines), which began in the 1950s and continued until 1973. The project was born within the framework of the US Atomic Energy Commission and had purely military purposes. After all, the original idea was to introduce it into intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Nevertheless, later it became a civic initiative developed jointly with NASA to analyze the possibility of using a fusion engine in space travel. In fact, the NERVA roadmap was very ambitious and aimed at sending astronauts to Mars in 1978. However, this never happened due to its abolition by the Richard Nixon administration.

NASA’s greatest success in fusion propulsion has been with the engine NERVA XE. Up to the point that he was tested on earth and considered ready for space agency flights to Mars. Nevertheless, never managed to be realized in a space demonstration.

Source: Hiper Textual

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