LLNL physicist Mary Burkey developed a novel approach to simulating the energy deposition from a nuclear device on an asteroid’s surface. (Photo: LLNL)
The same high energy density that makes nuclear energy a clean and efficient source of power could make it a good alternative to defend the planet against catastrophic asteroid impacts. NASA demonstrated the world’s first planetary defense technology in September 2022 by deliberately crashing a “kinetic impactor”—a heavy, box-like spacecraft—into an asteroid. Now, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have developed a new tool to model how a nuclear device could deflect—or even destroy—an asteroid threat to Earth in a more efficient and controlled way.
Artist’s concept of the DRACO spacecraft, which will demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket engine. (Image: DARPA)
NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have announced they will collaborate on plans to launch and test DARPA’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO). DARPA has already worked with private companies on the baseline design for a fission reactor and rocket engine—and the spacecraft that will serve as an in-orbit test stand—and has solicited proposals for the next phase of work. Now NASA is climbing on board, deepening its existing ties to DRACO’s work in nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) technology—an “enabling capability” required for NASA to meet its Moon to Mars Objectives and send crewed missions to Mars. NASA and DARPA representatives announced the development at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech Forum in National Harbor, Md., on January 24.
Artist’s concept of a fission surface power system on Mars. (Image: NASA)
NASA and Idaho National Laboratory have just opened a competitive solicitation for U.S. nuclear and space industry leaders to develop innovative technologies for a fission surface power system that could be deployed on the surface of the moon by the end of the decade. Battelle Energy Alliance, the managing and operating contractor for INL, issued a request for proposals and announced the news on November 19. Proposals are due February 17.