US military eyes nuclear thermal rocket for missions in Earth-moon space

The U.S. military aims to get a nuclear thermal rocket up and running, to boost its ability to monitor the goings-on in Earth-moon space.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) just awarded a $14 million task order to Gryphon Technologies, a company in Washington, D.C., that provides engineering and technical solutions to national security organizations.

The money will support DARPA’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, whose main goal is to demonstrate a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system in Earth orbit. 

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NTP systems use fission reactors to heat propellants such as hydrogen to extreme temperatures, then eject the gas through nozzles to create thrust. This tech boasts a thrust-to-weight ratio about 10,000 times higher than that of electric propulsion systems and a specific impulse, or propellant efficiency, two to five times that of traditional chemical rockets, DARPA officials wrote in a

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