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Rolls-Royce and UK Space Agency work on nuclear-powered space engine

Rolls-Royce and UK Space Agency work on nuclear-powered space engine

British luxury car and aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce has formed an unlikely alliance with the UK Space Agency to develop nuclear-powered spacecraf

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British luxury car and aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce has formed an unlikely alliance with the UK Space Agency to develop nuclear-powered spacecraft engines. 

The collaboration will see the two organisations working together to explore the potential of nuclear power as a source of energy for future expeditions into deep space.

If successful, a nuclear spacecraft could cut the journey time to Mars to just three to four months – roughly half the time possible using current chemical engines.

What’s more, the reduced journey times would mean astronauts on board the spacecraft are exposed to less radiation during the flight, making future trips to Mars or other planets safer.

If successful, a nuclear-powered spacecraft engine could cut the journey time to Mars to just three to four months - roughly half the time possible using current systems

If successful, a nuclear-powered spacecraft engine could cut the journey time to Mars to just three to four months - roughly half the time possible using current systems

If successful, a nuclear-powered spacecraft engine could cut the journey time to Mars to just three to four months – roughly half the time possible using current systems

WHAT IS NUCLEAR PROPULSION? 

Nuclear propulsion involves channeling the energy release in splitting the atom to accelerate propellants at huge speed.

Rolls-Royce and the UK Space Agency predict that this kind of engine could be twice as efficient as the chemical engines currently used to power rockets, cutting journey times in half.

With journey times cut in half, astronauts would be exposed to a lower dose of radiation, which could protect them from both radiation sickness and cancer. 

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Nuclear propulsion has previously been described by NASA as a ‘game changing technology for deep space exploration.’

It involves channelling the energy release in splitting the atom to accelerate propellants at huge speed.

Rolls-Royce and the UK Space Agency predict that this kind of engine could be twice as efficient as the chemical engines currently used to power rockets, cutting journey times in half.

Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: ‘Space nuclear power and propulsion is a game-changing concept that could unlock future deep-space missions that take us to Mars and beyond.

‘This study will help us understand the exciting potential of atomic-powered spacecraft, and whether this nascent technology could help us travel further and faster through space than ever before.’

A nuclear-powered engine could also make journeys into deep space safer for astronauts.

With journey times cut in half, astronauts would be exposed to a lower dose of radiation, which could protect them from both radiation sickness and cancer.

Rolls-Royce and the UK Space Agency predict that this kind of engine could be twice as efficient as the chemical engines currently used to power rockets, cutting journey times in half

Rolls-Royce and the UK Space Agency predict that this kind of engine could be twice as efficient as the chemical engines currently used to power rockets, cutting journey times in half

Rolls-Royce and the UK Space Agency predict that this kind of engine could be twice as efficient as the chemical engines currently used to power rockets, cutting journey times in half

‘Space radiation may place astronauts at significant risk for radiation sickness, and increased lifetime risk for cancer, central nervous system effects, and degenerative diseases,’ NASA explained.

Dave Gordon, UK Senior Vice President, Rolls-Royce Defence said: ‘We are excited to be working with the UK Space Agency on this pioneering project to define future nuclear power technologies for space. 

‘We believe there is a real niche UK capability in this area and this initiative can build on the strong UK nuclear network and supply chain.

‘We look forward to developing this and other exciting space projects in the future as we continue to develop the power to protect our planet, secure our world and explore our Universe.’  

The idea of a nuclear-powered spacecraft engine isn’t new. 

NASA launched a programme back in 1961 to develop a nuclear-powered engine, although the programme was terminated in 1972 due to space budget cutbacks. 

Now, more than 45 years later, NASA is working on a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) system once again. 

‘We’re working on a first generation NTP system that has great growth potential,’ said Doyce ‘Sonny’ Mitchell, manager of the NTP project at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Nasa’s timeline for the project remains unclear. 

NASA plans to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s after first landing on the Moon

Mars has become the next giant leap for mankind’s exploration of space.

But before humans get to the red planet, astronauts will take a series of small steps by returning to the moon for a year-long mission.

Details of a the mission in lunar orbit have been unveiled as part of a timeline of events leading to missions to Mars in the 2030s.

Nasa has outlined its four stage plan (pictured) which it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at he Humans to Mars Summit held in Washington DC yesterday. This will entail multiple missions to the moon over coming decades

Nasa has outlined its four stage plan (pictured) which it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at he Humans to Mars Summit held in Washington DC yesterday. This will entail multiple missions to the moon over coming decades

Nasa has outlined its four stage plan (pictured) which it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at he Humans to Mars Summit held in Washington DC yesterday. This will entail multiple missions to the moon over coming decades

In May 2017, Greg Williams, deputy associate administrator for policy and plans at Nasa, outlined the space agency’s four stage plan that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars, as well as its expected time-frame.

Phase one and two will involve multiple trips to lunar space, to allow for construction of a habitat which will provide a staging area for the journey.

The last piece of delivered hardware would be the actual Deep Space Transport vehicle that would later be used to carry a crew to Mars. 

And a year-long simulation of life on Mars will be conducted in 2027. 

Phase three and and four will begin after 2030 and will involve sustained crew expeditions to the Martian system and surface of Mars.

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This post first appeared on Dailymail.co.uk

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