Weapons maker Lockheed Martin has been awarded a contract by a US Department of Defense agency to develop a nuclear-powered spacecraft for the purposes of exploration and national defense, the company said on Wednesday.
This comes at a time when US-based space companies, along with Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX, are competing to cater to the burgeoning demand for commercial space operations and space travel.
Lockheed Martin said the project is an advancement in propulsion technology – from chemical propulsion engines to nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) engines.
Nuclear thermal propulsion systems
"These more powerful and efficient nuclear thermal propulsion systems can provide faster transit times between destinations. Reducing transit time is vital for human missions to Mars to limit a crew's exposure to radiation," said Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin Space.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded the contract to Lockheed under a project called Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO).
The in-space flight demonstration of a nuclear thermal rocket engine vehicle will take place no later than 2027, Lockheed said.