The U.S. government secret project agency DARPA is working on an atomic rocket to send satellites into the vast space between Earth and the moon—before Beijing gets there with its own spacecraft.
Regular readers of NTEB are well aware of DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is the brains behind all sorts of interesting projects. Really cool stuff like high-altitude surveillance balloons, implantable RFID microchips in the brain, and armies made from robot soldiers. Yeah, DARPA is pretty interesting to say the least.
Now DARPA is asking the Pentagon to give them lots of money to create an atomic rocket capable of launching satellites in the deep cislunar space between Earth and the moon, and they want to do it before the Chinese get there with their own spacecraft. Certainly the nation that could control that area of space would wield a lot of power in the cyber age where wars are fought with drones and computers. DARPA is always up to something, which is we are always watching DARPA. Game on.
DARPA Wants Millions For Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations Program
FROM THE DAILY BEAST: The Pentagon and DARPA want to extend the reach of its satellites tens of thousands miles toward the moon. And it’s working on a high-tech, atomic-powered “nuclear thermal propulsion” engine to make it possible.
The military’s goal is to deploy maneuverable satellites into the vast space between the Earth and the moon—“cislunar” space, it’s called—before China gets there with its own spacecraft. But this isn’t the first time the U.S. government has tried to develop an atomic rocket. And there’s no guarantee the same problems that ended previous efforts won’t also scuttle this one.
“The capability afforded by [nuclear thermal propulsion] will expand the operating presence of the U.S. in space to the cislunar volume and enhance domestic operations to a new high-ground, which is in danger of being defined by the adversary,” the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which oversees the atomic rocket effort, explained in its budget proposal.
The U.S. and Chinese space agencies and even private corporations are eager to mine the moon for minerals that could support deep-space missions, potentially including humanity’s first trip to Mars.
“An agile nuclear thermal propulsion vehicle enables the Defense Department to maintain space domain awareness of the burgeoning activity within this vast volume,” Jared Adams, a DARPA spokesperson, told The Daily Beast.
DARPA budget request for 2021, which the agency released in early February, asks for $21 million for the “Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations” program, or DRACO.
Congress gave DARPA $10 million in 2020 to start studying the DRACO engine. The 2021 budget would allow the agency to start building components. The plan is for DARPA to test DRACO before handing it over to the U.S. Air Force for routine operations.
The military’s nuclear thermal propulsion project is a virtual twin of a similar NASA program that’s a couple of years older.
DRACO is what experts call a “high-assay low-enriched uranium nuclear-thermal propulsion system.” Basically, it’s a small nuclear reactor atop a space rocket. The reactor heats up a propellant—hydrogen, for example—that accelerates through a nozzle, pushing the satellite in the opposite direction.
Nuclear-thermal engines aren’t for launching from Earth’s surface. They’re for cruising long distances through space or maneuvering a lot while keeping closer to Earth.
The moon is 240,000 miles from Earth. Most man-made satellites orbit no more than a few thousand miles from Earth’s surface. The United States and China are both in a scramble to fill that gap. READ MORE
3 Of The Strangest Projects DARPA Has Worked On
DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is tasked with exploring some far out science and technology projects to benefit the United States. Since its inception in 1958, it’s been credited with a number of inventions you probably use every day, but it also has worked on some weird stuff that never really came to fruition.
The ABCs of DARPA
DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is known for the wide range of research and development programs it runs to open pathways toward technologies that can further the cause of national security. Each program is most often known by its very own acronym, so for all those returning to school, or just to their normal post-summer routines, DARPA offers its own version of the ABCs.
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