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Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP)

Since 1955, space nuclear systems solutions have promised substantial advantages for both cislunar and deep-space mission architectures. Reduction in crew transit times - which result in decreased exposure to radiation, microgravity, and the general, inherent danger of space travel -  and increased flight safety margins - which allow for mission abort capabilities well into a mission’s duration - are just two of those benefits. 

Interest is growing in long-duration exploration of the Moon and eventual human travel to Mars. Space reactor technology maturity and advances in the manufacturing of relevant materials, computational modeling, the simulation of coupled systems, and supporting technologies, such as cryogenic fluid management, are all key to delivering an operational reactor within the decade.

BWXT Advanced Technologies LLC (BWXT AT) has been involved with NASA and the Department of Energy’s groundbreaking NTP design. We’ve been performing manufacturing development and testing since 2017. 

BWXT AT’s focus has been on nuclear fuel design and engineering activities. As part of this program, BWXT AT has produced fuel kernels, coatings, design materials and manufacturing processes for fuel assemblies and conceptual reactor design efforts. In 2021, BWXT AT was awarded a contract to produce a conceptual reactor design to support future mission needs. In 2023, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA announced they will collaborate on the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, which will launch and demonstrate a nuclear thermal engine as soon as 2027. As a partner to Lockheed Martin, BWXT AT will deliver the nuclear reactor and fabricate the HALEU fuel under the program.  

(Illustration courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

AT continues to support NASA’s space nuclear propulsion work through ongoing contracts.