NASA and DARPA Will be Testing a Nuclear Rocket in Space

Artist concept of Demonstration for Rocket to Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) spacecraft, Credits: DARPA

The coming decades of space exploration will see astronauts return to the Moon, the first crewed missions to Mars, and robotic missions to the outer Solar System (among other things). These missions will leverage innovative technologies that allow faster transits, long-duration stays, and sustainable living far from Earth. To this end, NASA and other space agencies are investigating nuclear applications, especially where energy and propulsion are concerned. Many of these proposals have been on the books since the early space age and have been thoroughly validated.

On Tuesday, January 24th, NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced they were launching an interagency agreement to develop a nuclear-thermal propulsion (NTP) concept. The proposed nuclear rocket is known as the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO), which would enable fast-transit missions to Mars (weeks instead of months). This three-phase program will culminate with a demonstration of the DRACO in orbit, which is expected to occur by early 2027.

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The Draco Constellation

The Draco constellation. Credit: Torsten Bronger/Wikipedia Commons

Welcome to another edition of Constellation Friday! Today, in honor of the late and great Tammy Plotner, we take a look at the dragon itself – the Draco constellation. Enjoy!

In the 2nd century CE, Greek-Egyptian astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus (aka. Ptolemy) compiled a list of all the then-known 48 constellations. This treatise, known as the Almagest, would be used by medieval European and Islamic scholars for over a thousand years to come, effectively becoming astrological and astronomical canon until the early Modern Age.

One of the constellations included in this treatise was Draco, which is located in the northern hemisphere and contains the north pole of the ecliptic. Today, it is one of the 88 modern constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and is bordered by the constellations of Bootes, Camelopardalis, Cepheus, Cygnus, Hercules, Lyra, Ursa Minor, and Ursa Major.

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