NASA and DARPA discuss new advanced propulsion technology

NASA and DARPA discuss new advanced propulsion technology

NASA and DARPA discuss new advanced propulsion technology

Artist's concept of a spacecraft powered by nuclear thermal propulsion.

Artist’s concept of a spacecraft powered by nuclear thermal propulsion.
Illustration: NASA

Two of the most progressive agencies in the United States are joining forces to advance the development of advanced space propulsion. Tuesday morning there is a conversation by the fireplace about the new collaboration on the program, and you can watch it live here.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) from 2023 SciTech Forum is officially underway in National Harbor, Maryland. The theme for this year’s confab is “Explore the Frontiers of Space,” and it will take place today through Friday at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. Forum speakers will discuss the future of space and planetary exploration, aviation, climate research, and Earth sciences, among others other topics.

Of note is a panel discussion to be held on Tuesday, January 24 at 10:00 a.m. ET, in which officials from NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA – the Pentagon’s secret intelligence agency research division – will “discuss inter-agency collaboration to advance space propulsion technologies for both civil and defense efforts” such as the AIAA describes the fireplace chat.

NASA Live: Official Stream of NASA TV

The session will be made available on NASA TVthe NASA app and the agency’s website. You can also watch it in the live feed above.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will deliver a keynote address, after which Steven Howe, the 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 Bureau’s Tactical Technology Office from 2013 to 2017.

It’s not clear how far the panelists will dive into the details, but it would be great to get some specific information about the kinds of advanced space propulsion technologies that NASA and DARPA will try to develop, along with descriptions of possible future applications. Updates on current projects, such as spacecraft powered by nuclear thermal propulsion, would also be welcome. NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently promised Phase I status and $175,000 in funding for a University of Florida team working on a nuclear engine concept that could take a spacecraft to Mars in just 45 days.

This should make for an interesting conversation, and I look forward to learning more about the collaboration and how the two agencies plan to work together.

More: Planes on Titan and pipelines on the moon: NASA is considering some wild future tech

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