A first ever study into nuclear-powered space exploration from Rolls-Royce & UK Space Agency

Space Coast, FL – Today, the UK Space Agency and Rolls-Royce have announced they are joining forces. They will be conducting a new, different, kind of study on nuclear power and technologies for space exploration.

Nuclear spacecraft concept illustration | Image: Rolls Royce

The new research agreement will show planetary scientists work together to seek out potential nuclear power as a source of energy. This could make deeper space exploration possible in the decades to come.

Nuclear propulsion would involve channeling immense energy released in splitting the atom to accelerate propellants. This would mean, a hydrogen atom would have the ability to revolutionize space travel.

In some cases, this kind of engine could be twice as efficient as the chemical engines that power rockets today. Meaning that we could arrive at Mars in about half the time (3-4 months) from current chemical propulsion use.

As we build back better from the pandemic, it is partnerships like this between business, industry and government that will help to create jobs and bring forward pioneering innovations that will advance UK spaceflight. Nuclear power presents transformative possibilities for space exploration and this innovative study with Rolls-Royce could help to propel our next generation of astronauts into space faster and for longer, significantly increasing our knowledge of the Universe.

– Amanda Solloway, Science Minister

Space nuclear power and propulsion is a game-changing concept that could unlock future deep-space missions that take us to Mars and beyond. This study will help us understand the exciting potential of atomic-powered spacecraft, and whether this nascent technology could help us travel further and faster through space than ever before.

– Dr. Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency

We are excited to be working with the UK Space Agency on this pioneering project to define future nuclear power technologies for space. We believe there is a real niche UK capability in this area and this initiative can build on the strong UK nuclear network and supply chain. We look forward to developing this and other exciting space projects in the future as we continue to develop the power to protect our planet, secure our world and explore our Universe.

– Dave Gordon, UK Senior Vice President, Rolls-Royce Defence

This study and potential reality would not just mean shorter trips. It also means less time for astronauts to endure radiation outside from the bubble of protection given by the Earth’s magnetosphere.

In the outer Solar System, sunlight gets too dim for solar panels, and other technologies like fuel cells are often too patchy as a source of energy. So, the appeal of a small nuclear power generator becomes increasingly precious with distance from the Sun.

This idea has existed since the 1950s. The United States attempted to develop a rocket propelled by small atomic bombs tossed out the back.

Like our content/updates? Give us a follow on our social media channels and check out our new Patreon Page with rewards.