US company X-energy said on 30 August that the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) had recently awarded a Track A contract to General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) for the first phase of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) programme. The DRACO programme will develop an agile nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system for cislunar operations, targeting a full-scale, on-orbit demonstration in 2025. As part of the GA-EMS led team, X-energy will develop key fuel fabrication processes in support of a first-of-a-kind rocket powered by nuclear thermal propulsion. The work performed by X-energy is critical to mission success and will provide data on the specialised fuel not previously available to support the design of this propulsion system.
“We are honoured to be part of the winning team and a key contributor in the success of the DARPA DRACO mission,” said Dr Pete Pappano, President, X-energy subsidiary TRISO-X. “Our selection is confirmation of the progress we’ve made in novel nuclear fuel development for both commercial terrestrial and government-sponsored space applications.”
X-energy has operated a pilot fuel facility since 2017, has active contracts with the Department of Energy and Department of Defense to develop terrestrial-based nuclear power systems and has supported NASA in their refinement of NTP reactor concepts. X-energy regularly partners with “sister” companies Axiom Space and Intuitive Machines. Axiom is building the first commercial space station thus creating a low earth orbit economy while Intuitive Machines is developing the first commercial moon lander, scheduled to launch early next year.
X-energy Founder and Executive Chairman Kam Ghaffarian stated, “X-energy’s delivery of nuclear know-how to the DRACO programme fulfils a goal I have had for many years – to apply safe, secure, and affordable nuclear solutions to the benefit of space-based systems. The US Government recognises innovative, mission-enabling value of nuclear to achieve our cislunar and planetary exploration goals and we are thrilled to be part of it.”