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NASA pushes nuclear thermal propulsion systems

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion. Graphic: NASA

Luxembourg, 15 July 2021. – NASA supports nuclear space propulsion technologies and pushes for the design of nuclear thermal engines, the agency said.

Together with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), NASA has selected three reactor design concepts for a nuclear thermal propulsion system. The reactor is a critical component of a nuclear thermal engine, which would utilize high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel.

The 12-month contracts go to three consortia and are valued at approximately $5 million each. They are awarded through the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and fund the development of various design strategies for the specified performance requirements that could aid in deep space exploration, NASA said.

The three consortia are: BWX Technologies from Virginia, partnering with Lockheed Martin; General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems of San Diego, partnering with X-energy LLC and Aerojet Rocketdyne; and Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies of Seattle, partnering with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, Blue Origin, General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy, General Electric Research, Framatome, and Materion.

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