Nasa to fund nuclear rocket to blast people to Mars in just 45 days

The Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket could theoretically carry people to Mars in less than two months (Nasa)
The Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket could theoretically carry people to Mars in less than two months (Nasa)

Nasa has unveiled funding for a nuclear-powered rocket that could cut journey times to Mars from seven months to just 45 days.

The Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket could be used to transport both people and cargo across the Solar System, significantly reducing major risks associated with interplanetary travel, such as radiation exposure.

The concept was put forward by Professor Ryan Gosse from the University of Florida, who claimed the bimodal design would “revolutionise deep space exploration”.

Nasa will help fund the rocket’s development through a series of new grants aimed at financing “high-risk, high-reward projects that have the potential to “drastically improve” space missions over the next decades.

“By working together, across government and with industry, the United States is advancing space nuclear propulsion,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for Nasa’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

“These design contracts are an important step toward tangible reactor hardware that could one day propel new missions and exciting discoveries.”

From the 1950s to the 1980s, American and Soviet space programmes both explored the possibility of using Nuclear-Thermal Propulsion (NTP) for space travel. It involves heating liquid hydrogen propellant in a nuclear reactor, which turns it into thrust-generating plasma.

In the 2000s, Nasa attempted to develop a new type of rocket using Nuclear-Electric Propulsion (NEP), which uses a nuclear reactor to generate electricity for an engine capable of producing an electromagnetic field to ionise gas to use as thrust.

By combining both the NTP and NEP technologies through a bimodal propulsion method, Professor Gosse’s design would theoretically double the speed that either technology would be capable of producing by itself.