US Air Force Taps Three Companies for Nuclear Fission Spacecraft

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has awarded contracts to three companies to develop nuclear fission technology for spacecraft.

Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse Government Services, and Intuitive Machines will work on AFRL’s Joint Emergent Technology Supplying On-orbit Nuclear Power (JETSON) project.

The contracts, totalling $60 million, were announced on September 29. Work for the project is scheduled to be completed by 2025.

Nuclear Space Plans

The DoD shared the importance of the agreement for the advancement of US space technologies.

In the announcement, the department stated that the initiative will allow AFRL to investigate how a “high power, nuclear fission-system could be implemented from a subsystem, spacecraft, and architecture standpoint.”

JETSON Program Manager Lt. Col. Tommy Nix added during a panel that the AFRL is set on researching more advanced power options for space projects.

“As we move farther and farther out from what our current mission set is, we’ll need higher power…so that’s where the focus of a lot of our programs are,” he said.

“Our focus right now is on nuclear production, and then applying those to newer payloads and also being able to operate in some agnostic manners and new architectures.”

Advancements Through JETSON

After the project’s completion, the US Air Force aims to have its spacecraft fully utilize nuclear fission to harness power after having utilized solar energy in the past.

Additionally, JETSON aims to develop support systems in critical areas, including power management, on-orbit mobility, thermal regulation, and radiation shielding.

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