Leading DRACO to launch: An interview with DARPA’s Tabitha Dodson

July 28, 2023, 2:59PMNuclear NewsSusan Gallier

Sometimes, even with decades of research and testing, a project never gets off the ground. That has been the case for U.S. nuclear thermal rockets—so far. Research began in the 1950s and peaked with a series of rigorous ground tests for NERVA—the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Applications—before the program was canceled in 1973. Five decades on, this technology has yet to make it to the launchpad. But while mission priorities shift, the physics is solid: Fission-powered nuclear thermal rockets (NTRs) still offer two to five times greater efficiency than conventional rockets.

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