NASA is collaborating with a military research agency to develop a nuclear missile designed to carry astronauts to Mars.
NASA recently announced that it will partner with the US Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on the effort. As the military’s research and development group, DARPA has historically helped spearhead many notable inventions, including beginnings from Internet.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson He said The first nuclear-powered missile test flight could be launched as soon as 2027.
The developing technology is called nuclear thermal paying off. A missile powered by this technology can travel much faster than conventional chemical propulsion systems.
NASA has long studied nuclear thermopropulsion for its potential use in space travel. But its last engine tests using the technology took place more than 50 years ago. The government terminated the development program for budgetary reasons and because of Cold War tensions.
NASA said that with nuclear thermal propulsion, a trip to Mars can be completed in three to four months. This compares to about seven months with the chemical push. The space agency says building nuclear-powered rockets will allow more manned flights and improve astronaut safety. Short trips also require less equipment and other supplies.
Reducing travel times will be an important part of NASA’s future plans. It expects an increase in the number of manned missions as it seeks to return humans to the moon by the mid-2020s, and later to Mars.
“With the help of this new technology, astronauts can… a trip To and from deep space faster than ever before – a great readiness capability for the crew missions To Mars.”
Nuclear heat propulsion engines operate at a much higher energy density which is twice that effective As rocket engines, officials say.
On its website, the US Department of Energy describes how the nuclear thermal propulsion system works. It needs a radioactive substance such as uranium and another element, such as hydrogen, in liquid form. This constitutes a defend that is forced through the central part of a nuclear reactor. This causes the uranium atoms inside the reactor to crack and release heat. The heat turns the propellant into a gas, which expands through an orifice to yield to push.
This type of energy interaction, called fission, is necessary to create the extremely high temperatures required to propel heavy spacecraft during long-distance flights.
DARPA and the US Department of Energy have already developed a thermonuclear propulsion system for use during an experimental test flight. In 2021, DARPA awarded funds to contractors General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin to study designs for nuclear reactors and spacecraft.
Tabitha Dodson oversees DARPA’s testing program efforts. She told the Reuters news agency that by next March, the agency is expected to select a company to build a nuclear spacecraft for the 2027 demonstration.
NASA said it plans to continue studying and developing new space nuclear technologies for other areas of the space program. This includes plans to place power systems for nuclear reactors on the Moon, and later on Mars, to support future human space activities.
I’m Brian Lane.
Brian Lane wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reporting from NASA, Reuters, and AFP.
words in this story
thermal – heat related
paying off – n. A force that moves something forward
a trip – n. Long trip
Expedition – n. The flight of a spacecraft to perform a mission or function
effective – It works well and does not waste time and energy
defend – n. An explosive propellant that causes something to move forward
to push – n. push or upward force
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