NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy have awarded three $ 5 million contracts to produce reactor design concepts that could be used one day to transport people and goods to Mars.
Nuclear power has lost favor in much of the world, but the sky is the limit when it comes to space.
The U.S. government relies on the expertise of Jeff Bezos ’Blue Origin space company, General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy and other companies to develop nuclear spacecraft that can travel faster and farther – to Mars and beyond there.
NASA and the Department of Energy have awarded three $ 5 million contracts to produce reactor design concepts that could be used to transport people and cargo to Mars or to push scientific missions to the outer regions of the solar system, said the space agency on Tuesday.
Defense companies Lockheed Martin Corp. and Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc., in addition to drone manufacturer General Atomics and BWX Technologies Inc., which makes nuclear and fuel components, are among the companies participating in the effort.
“These design contracts are an important step toward tangible reactor hardware that could one day propel new missions and exciting discoveries,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, in the statement.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, nuclear propulsion systems are more efficient than standard chemical races, meaning they promise to travel faster for more ambitious, more space missions.
Meanwhile, nuclear power now produces about 10% of the world’s electricity, up from a peak of 18% in the mid-1990s.
It could take several years to develop the technology for space travel, which will face significant obstacles. While nuclear power plants have been used for decades in submarines and aircraft carriers, putting one on an explosive missile poses significant risks.
The nuclear space effort comes amid a resurgence of extra-planetary activity, with the U.S. government exploring Mars and planning the first equipped mission to the moon in decades.
Meanwhile, companies backed by billionaires of celebrities are in the process of commercializing space tourism.
Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc., on Sunday, completed a suborbital test flight with founder Richard Branson on board.
Amazon.com Inc. founder Bezos plans to fly to space next week on a flight made by Blue Origin.
General Electric Co. made many of the reactors of the 1970s and 1980s that derived energy from boiling water and that remain at the heart of the U.S. nuclear portfolio.
More recently, the company has specialized in smaller reactors that do not require the same infrastructure, through its joint venture with Hitachi Ltd. , discontinued in 2011.