Everyone wants to go to space and the US Department of Defense (DoD) is hoping to increase the number of missions that can travel outside of Earth’s orbit. The agency aims to achieve this by soliciting proposals for new commercial propulsion systems, specifically nuclear tech that “…enables high delta-V and electrical power to payloads, while maintaining fuel efficiency”.
Going nuclear on the Department of Defense
Nuclear powered spacecraft are not a new phenomenon, having been used for everything from generating electricity to making sure that tech doesn’t freeze out in space. The DoD is specifically looking for a nuclear propulsion system capable of multitasking — it needs to generate electricity for the spacecraft as well as heat, while being shielded enough that scientists on the ground are safe while working on it and that components survive their trip out into the vastness of space.
The idea is to power small- and medium-sized spacecraft (down to 2,000kg ‘dry mass’) out beyond Earth’s orbit. It’s possible to send electrical and solar-powered craft on those missions but they’re not especially efficient. The US Department of Defense is looking to nuclear propulsion to solve pretty much all of the issues faced by a craft venturing away from the sun with this call for proposals.
And they’re not mucking around, either. Proposals are due by 23 September (so if you’ve got an idea and the technical backing to pull it off, send your pitch in) and the agency will likely award contracts within 90 days after proposals close. We’re not sure why they’re so keen to create a nuclear-powered spacecraft but a reliable commercial nuclear solution could drive a whole new phase of space exploration for humanity.