To speed up the pace of NTP tech development, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected a trio of companies to build and demonstrate a nuclear-based propulsion system on a spacecraft above low-Earth orbit by 2025. The prime contractors include Jeff Bezos’ private space project Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, and General Atomics.
Over the next 18 months, phase 1 of the DRACO (Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations) program will see the companies split across two tracks to develop a craft that has the ability to rapidly maneuver in cislunar space (between the Earth and the moon). The award win marks a new national security contract for Blue Origin, according to CNBC, while its DRACO counterparts are regulars on the defense circuit.
Bezos’ company and Lockheed Martin — granted $2.5 million and $2.9 million, respectively — will now work on competing designs for an operational spacecraft powered by an NTP system. DARPA awarded General Atomics $22 million to develop the nuclear reactor.