Main Engine Cut Off

NASA Contracts with BWXT for Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Project

An NTP system can cut the voyage time to Mars from six months to four and safely deliver human explorers by reducing their exposure to radiation. That also could reduce the vehicle mass, enabling deep space missions to haul more payload.

Given its experience in developing and delivering nuclear fuels for the U.S. Navy, BWXT will aid in the design and testing of a promising, low-enriched uranium-based nuclear thermal engine concept and "Cermet" -- ceramic metallic -- fuel element technology. During this three-year, $18.8-million contract, the company will manufacture and test prototype fuel elements and also help NASA properly address and resolve nuclear licensing and regulatory requirements. BWXT will aid NASA in refining the feasibility and affordability of developing a nuclear thermal propulsion engine, delivering the technical and programmatic data needed to determine how to implement this promising technology in years to come.

The company's new contract is expected to run through Sept. 30, 2019.

Nuclear thermal propulsion would be a very interesting addition to any architecture, but I really can’t stand when it’s framed in this way.

Cutting travel time to Mars from six to four months is not unique to nuclear thermal propulsion, and more importantly, getting there two months faster is pretty pointless without the most important piece: a lander.

It’d be great to see any movement whatsoever in the way of a Mars (or lunar) lander.