DARPA selects three prime contractors for the DRACO project
DARPA stated that rapid maneuvering The core essentials of sea and air combat. However, due to the electric and chemical space propulsion systems currently in use, rapid maneuvering in space has always been challenging. These systems have limitations in the thrust-to-weight ratio of electric propulsion systems and the propellant efficiency of chemical propulsion systems. DRACO’s nuclear thermal propulsion system has the potential to achieve a high thrust-to-weight ratio similar to space chemical propulsion, while approaching the high propellant efficiency of an electric system.
This combination of efficiency will make the DRACO spacecraft more flexible, enabling it to realize the core mission of the Department of Defense, which is to quickly maneuver in the space between the Earth and the Moon. The DRACO project manager, Major Nathan Greiner from the US Air Force, said that the three teams have demonstrated the ability to develop and deploy advanced reactors, thrusters and spacecraft systems. The nuclear heat pulse technology that the plan seeks to develop and demonstrate is intended to become the basis for future space operations.
The first phase of DRACO lasts for 18 months and consists of two tracks. The A track includes the preliminary design of the nuclear thermal propulsion reactor and propulsion subsystem concept. The goal of Orbit B is to produce an operating system spacecraft concept designed to meet mission objectives and develop a demonstration system. Greiner said that the first phase of the plan involved solving the problem of how to reduce risk so that an on-orbit demonstration could be carried out in the later stages of the plan.
General Atomics is developing the A-orbit reactor, and Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin are independently working on the B-orbit. The first stage of DRACO will affect the subsequent stages of design, manufacturing and on-orbit demonstrations. DARPA will call for work in all subsequent phases in the future.