Lockheed Martin Receives Funding for Nuclear Spacecraft

15th Nov 2023
Lockheed Martin Receives Funding for Nuclear Spacecraft

Aerospace company Lockheed Martin has been granted a contract to develop and refine nuclear spacecraft technologies.

Lockheed Martin’s JETSON Project Advances Nuclear Fission Development for Space Exploration

To aid in the JETSON (Joint Emergent Technology Supplying On-Orbit Nuclear) program, Lockheed Martin has received a total of $33.7 million from the US Air Force Laboratory to advance high-power nuclear electric power, as well as propulsion tech and space shuttle design. 

The JETSON program plans to deploy a fission reactor, which will activate once it enters orbit. Said reactor will create heat, which will be transmitted to Stirling power converters to generate electricity. Following that, the generated electricity will be utilized to power electric thrusters or spacecraft. It is worth noting that NASA has previously demonstrated the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY), a foundation for the new reactor.

Program manager and principal investigator for JETSON, Barry Miles, emphasized the prominence of nuclear fission development for space exploration. 

He stated, “Nuclear fission development for space applications is key to introducing technologies that could dramatically change how we move and explore the vastness of space. “

“From high-power electrical subsystem and electric propulsion to nuclear thermal propulsion or fission surface power, Lockheed Martin is focused on developing these systems with our important government agencies and industry partners.”

Lockheed Joins Forces with SpaceNukes and BWXT on JETSON Project

Lockheed has partnered with BWX Technologies Inc. and Space Nuclear Power Corp (SpaceNukes) for the JETSON project, and both companies possess significant knowledge and experience regarding nuclear power and reactor development. The scheme is in its initial design review phase and may progress to the CDR (critical design review) level.

“A future JETSON flight experiment will enhance manoeuvre and power capabilities shaping future space force operations,” stated SpaceNukes CEO Andy Phelps.

The funding contract was declared on September 29, together with two other contracts for participants in JETSON.

Intuitive Machines, a startup based in Houston, has also been offered a $9.4 mil contract to develop a spacecraft that will implement a compact RPS (radioisotope power system). The company is also in preparation to inaugurate its Nova-C moon lander, scheduled for January 2024.

Additionally, South Carolina-based company Westinghouse Government Services has received a grant to further study the application of high-power nuclear fission systems in space exploration.

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