The ambitions of the US Department of Defense beyond Earth have become a little clearer. News learned that the ministry recently launched a call for privately-made nuclear propulsion systems that could power small and medium-sized spacecraft. The DoD wants to launch missions that venture beyond Earth orbit, and existing electric and solar spacecraft are not suitable for this job or for smaller vehicles, the Defense Innovation Unit said. department.
The nuclear propulsion system will ideally deliver a “high delta-V” (above 33 fps) while reducing to less than 2,000 kg dry mass (4,409 pounds on Earth). In addition to providing electricity for the payload, the technology will hopefully keep the spacecraft warm when in shadow and minimize radiation both to the ground and to other components. Responses are expected by September 23, with contracts handed in as quickly as 60 to 90 days later.
The officials acknowledged that they were making the request for the sake of expediency. NASA and other agencies are already developing or supporting nuclear spacecraft, but these won’t be ready for a long time. The DoD is hoping for a prototype within three to five years – the technology would serve as a stopgap that would get nuclear propulsion into service relatively quickly for short-term projects.
While the request did not provide any clues about spacecraft in the works, the focus on smaller spacecraft suggests they could be probes, satellites, or other vehicles with modest objectives. . You won’t see this power of human travel on Mars. All the same, it’s clear the DoD is frustrated with the limitations of existing spacecraft engines and wants a fast track to more powerful designs.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.