NASA and DARPA discuss new advanced propulsion technology

NASA and DARPA discuss new advanced propulsion technology
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Artist's conception of a spacecraft powered by nuclear thermal propulsion.

Artist’s conception of a spacecraft powered by nuclear thermal propulsion.
Illustration: POT

Two of the most forward-thinking agencies in the United States are joining forces to further the development of advanced space propulsion. A fireside chat about the new collaboration is scheduled for Tuesday morning, and you can see it lives right here.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) 2023 Science and technology forum is officially underway in National Harbor, Maryland. The theme of this year’s talk is “Exploring the Frontiers of the Aerospace Industry,” and it will run today through Friday at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. Forum speakers will address the future of space and planetary exploration, aeronautics, climate research and earth sciences, among Other themes.

Of note is a panel discussion to be held on Tuesday, January 24 at 10:00 am ET, during which officials from NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the Pentagon’s secret research wing—“will discuss an interagency collaboration to advance space propulsion technologies for both civil and defense efforts,” such as the AIAA describes informal talk.

NASA Live: Official NASA TV Broadcast

The session will be available at NASA TelevisionNASA app and agency website. You’ll also be able to watch it on the live stream above.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will deliver a keynote address, after which Steven Howe, former director of the Center for Space Nuclear Research (CSNR), will moderate a two-person panel consisting of NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, and DARPA Director Stefanie Tompkins. Melroy has a connection to DARPA, having served as deputy director of the agency’s office of tactical technology from 2013 to 2017.

It’s not clear how much detail the panelists will delve into, but it was great to have some concrete data about the types of advanced space propulsion technologies that NASA and DARPA will seek to develop, along with descriptions of possible future applications. Updates on ongoing projects, such as spaceships powered by nuclear thermal propulsionwould also be welcome. NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded Phase I status and $175,000 in funding for a team from the University of Florida working on a nuclear engine concept that could take a spacecraft to Mars in just 45 days.

This should be a fascinating conversation, and I look forward to learning about the collaboration and how the two agencies plan to work together.

More: Planes on Titan and pipelines on the Moon: NASA considers some wild-future tech

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