DRACO Program Will Demonstrate Nuclear Power’s Ability to Propel Spacecraft
BWX Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: BWXT) today announced that its reactor and fuel will be key components in the world’s first demonstration spacecraft using nuclear thermal propulsion.
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DARPA has selected BWXT and Lockheed Martin to produce a nuclear-powered spacecraft. Image courtesy Lockheed Martin. (Photo: Business Wire)
Working as part of a team led by Lockheed Martin, BWXT Advanced Technologies LLC will complete final design of the nuclear reactor, manufacture the reactor’s hardware and fuel, assemble the components and deliver the fueled reactor as a complete subsystem for integration into the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations, known as DRACO.
The reactor’s energy will enable propulsion that allows DRACO to maneuver through space with great speed and agility for an extended period of time. This nuclear thermal propulsion system is designed to be extremely safe and reliable, using High Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel to rapidly heat a super-cold gas, such as liquid hydrogen. As the gas is heated, it expands quickly and creates thrust to move the spacecraft more efficiently than typical chemical combustion engines.
The spacecraft is targeted for a 2027 launch from Earth in “cold” status (meaning that the reactor is turned off as a part of launch safety protocols) by a conventional rocket, and then the reactor will be powered on once the spacecraft attains an appropriate location above low earth orbit.
“The award of this contract further demonstrates BWXT’s ability to design, manufacture and deploy nuclear reactors and fuel on a scale that is unmatched elsewhere in the world today,” said Joe Miller, president of BWXT Advanced Technologies LLC. “This partnership with Lockheed Martin working for DARPA adds another important dimension to BWXT’s already-impressive line-up of nuclear reactor designs for commercial and defense applications.”
“These more powerful and efficient nuclear thermal propulsion systems can provide faster transit times between destinations. Reducing transit time is vital for human missions to Mars to limit a crew’s exposure to radiation,” said Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin Space. “This is a prime technology that can be used to transport humans and materials to the Moon. A safe, reusable nuclear tug spacecraft would revolutionize cislunar operations.”
Work on this program will be conducted primarily at BWXT’s Mt. Athos Road complex near Lynchburg, Virginia.
Forward Looking Statements
BWXT cautions that this release contains forward-looking statements, including statements relating to the performance, scope and timing of the nuclear thermal propulsion reactor and fuel contract. These forward-looking statements involve a number of risks and uncertainties, including, among other things, modification or termination of the contract, delays or other difficulties in the commencement or execution of the contract, the expected duration of the contract and any changes to government appropriations for the DRACO program. If one or more of these or other risks materialize, actual results may vary materially from those expressed. For a more complete discussion of these and other risk factors, please see BWXT’s annual report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2022 filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. BWXT cautions not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date of this release, and undertakes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statement, except to the extent required by applicable law.
At BWX Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: BWXT), we are People Strong, Innovation Driven. Headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia, BWXT is a Defense News Top 100 manufacturing and engineering innovator that provides safe and effective nuclear solutions for global security, clean energy, environmental restoration, nuclear medicine and space exploration. With approximately 7,000 employees, BWXT has 14 major operating sites in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. In addition, BWXT joint ventures provide management and operations at a dozen U.S. Department of Energy and NASA facilities. Follow us on Twitter at @BWXT and learn more at www.bwxt.com.
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