UK Space Agency, Rolls Royce Pursuing Nuclear-Powered Space Exploration

The UK space agency is aiming to send a spacecraft to Mars in roughly half the time it takes now to reach the Red Planet, using nuclear powered-engines to be built by Rolls Royce. It said its research with the engineering company will explore the “game-changing potential” of nuclear power to send astronauts to Mars in just three to four months — twice the speed of chemical engines that power our rockets today — making deep space exploration possible in the decades to come. The research, if successful, could revolutionise space travel.

A government report quoted Dr Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, as saying, “Space nuclear power and propulsion is a game-changing concept that could unlock future deep-space missions that take us to Mars and beyond.”

It would not only save time but also radically reduce the radiation exposure to astronauts who would be making future trips to Mars. The radiation dose increases the longer an astronaut spends in deep space, away from the bubble of protection given by the Earth’s magnetosphere.

Nuclear powered-engines have long been a field of interest for space scientists, as they strive to discover the world far, far away from us. In the 1950s, the United States attempted to develop nuclear spacecraft technology but the programme was later discontinued. A small nuclear power generator for propulsion could come in handy as power in space becomes increasingly precious with distance from the Sun and fuel cells are often too inconsistent as a source of energy.

Dr Turnock added that this research will also help them understand whether this technology could help spacecraft travel further and faster than ever before.

Dave Gordon, UK Senior Vice President, Rolls Royce Defence, said they are “excited” to be working on this project as they continue to develop the power to “protect our planet, secure our world and explore our universe”. Rolls Royce has previously provided the nuclear propulsion technology for the Royal Navy’s submarines.

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