That’s just one year after DARPA plans to test out its own nuclear power prototypes.
Add the Defense Innovation Unit to a growing list of U.S. government organizations furthering their work in nuclear power in pace.
The organization, which seeks to get the military ready to use emergent commercial products, announced two prototype contracts on May 17 “to demonstrate the next generation of nuclear propulsion and power capability for spacecraft.” The ultimate aim is an orbital flight demonstration in 2027, DIU officials said in a statement(opens in new tab).
The contracts went to two companies, Ultra Safe Nuclear and Avalanche Energy, to demonstrate nuclear propulsion and power capabilities for small spacecraft that would operate in cislunar (Earth-moon) space. (The values of the contracts were not disclosed in the release.)
It’s part of the U.S. military’s pressing focus on cislunar activities to keep an eye on commercial and government activities that will ramp up there in the coming decades, including the international NASA-led Artemis program that seeks to put people on the moon in the 2020s.
If all goes to plan, Ultra Safe Nuclear will demonstrate EmberCore, a chargeable, nuclear radioisotope battery useful for propulsion and power.
“This ‘next-gen’ radioisotope system will be able to scale to 10 times higher power levels, compared to plutonium systems, and provide more than 1 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy in just a few kilograms of fuel,” DIU stated.