The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), aiming to improve the US military’s ability to monitor events in the space between the Earth and the Moon, awarded $14 million to Gryphon Technologies, a Washington-based company that supplies technical and engineering solutions for national security organizations. The reason? Support the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, through which it intends to demonstrate how a nuclear thermal propulsion system (NTP) would work in Earth’s orbit. In other words, a thermal rocket.
Such tools use fission reactors to heat propellants (special fuels) such as hydrogen to extreme temperatures and then eject the gas through nozzles to create thrust. According to program officials, the technology provides a force about 10,000 times greater than that of electric propulsion systems and two to five times greater than that found in traditional chemical rockets.
“We are proud to support DRACO and the development and demonstration of NTP, a significant technological advance in efforts to achieve cislunar space awareness,” celebrates PJ Braden, CEO of Gryphon, in a statement.
It’s not just DARPA that is excited about the results. Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, praised the rocket’s potential and did not rule out that it would be used in manned explorations to Mars, as it could transport astronauts to their destination in just three or four months – about half the time required by mechanisms today applied. “This is absolutely revolutionary for what NASA is trying to achieve,” he declared during a National Space Council meeting last year, according to space.
“If we think about the radiation dose the crew would be exposed to on the way, this gives us the opportunity to protect lives,” added Bridenstine.