Lockheed Martin to Develop Nuclear-Powered Spacecraft
Lockheed Martin has secured a contract to develop and create nuclear technologies for space vehicles under the JETSON project, a program by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. According to the agreement, the company will receive $33.7 million for the development of powerful nuclear engines and the design of spacecraft based on them, as reported by Space.com.
The goal of the JETSON project is to launch a fission reactor into space, which will generate heat for conversion into electricity using Stirling power converters. This electric power can be used to power the vital systems of spacecraft and to operate their engines.
The reactor being developed by Lockheed Martin is based on a previous NASA demonstration called the "Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology" (KRUSTY), which took place in 2018. This project opens up possibilities for using nuclear fission in space operations and could significantly alter the ways we travel and explore the vast expanse of space.
"The development of nuclear fission for use in space travel is key to implementing technologies that can fundamentally change how we move and explore the boundless realms of space," said Barry Miles, program manager of JETSON and Chief Scientist at Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin will collaborate with Space Nuclear Power Corp and BWX Technologies to develop these technologies. Both companies have experience in nuclear energy and reactor design. Currently, the project is in the preliminary review stage with the potential to move on to the next phase of development.
In addition to Lockheed Martin, other companies are also involved in the JETSON project. The Houston-based startup Intuitive Machines has received a contract to develop the concept of a space vessel using a compact radioisotope power system, while Westinghouse Government Services has received a contract to further explore the use of powerful nuclear fission systems in space vehicles.
It's worth noting that in early November, NASA astronauts Jasmine Mogbeli and Loral O'Hara lost a tool bag during a spacewalk. It is now orbiting ahead of the International Space Station and resembles Uranus in apparent brightness when viewed from Earth.