The United States Agency for Advanced Defense Research Projects (DARPA) invited proposals for phases II and III of the Cislunar Flexible Demonstration Missile Program (DRACO).

Phase II and III will focus on the development, design, manufacture and assembly of a nuclear thermal rocket engine (NTR).

The two phases follow Phase I, which includes two parallel risk reduction activities, namely Route A and Route B.

Runway A aimed to develop the original design of the rocket engine reactor, while Route B focused on developing a conceptual design for the program’s in-orbit demonstration system.

Completion of both phases of the DRACO program will lead to a demonstration of NTR spaceflight.

The implementation of this demonstration is expected to take place in the fiscal year 2026.

DARPA Tactical Technology Office Program Manager Major Nathan Grainer said: “The United States is maneuvering to maintain land, sea and air advantage.

“However, the maneuver is more challenging in space due to the limitations of the propulsion system.

“To maintain technological superiority in space, the United States requires propulsion technology that will provide the DRACO program.

The DRACO program will allow the United States to carry out time-critical missions in the airfield and improve its interests in space.

DARPA has also contracted General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) to design a nuclear thermal propulsion system under the DRACO program.

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