In challenge to Elon Musk, Lockheed Martin set to show off nuclear space power by 2027

Special to, November 15, 2023


By Richard Fisher

Look out Elon Musk, your “cheese” is about to be moved by the beginning of nuclear space power, and defense prime Lockheed Martin is making serious investments in the development of this technology.

Paraphrasing Spencer Johnson’s 1998 classic millennial business book Who Moved My Cheese, about responding to change, space transportation based on chemical fuel propulsion is on the path to being eclipsed by the development of nuclear space power.

A Los Angeles National Laboratories (LANL) concept for a thermal nuclear powered spacecraft, with a nuclear reactor located in the “nose” on the left, used by Lockheed Martin to illustrate its Nov. 8 press release on the JETSON program.

Nuclear powered space engines may be as much as three times as efficient as chemically propelled engines, potentially reducing transit time to Mars from seven months to 45 days.

In contrast, the SpaceX Starship would require numerous in-space refueling dockings for chemical propellant, which increases mission risk, and still requires seven months to reach Mars.

In 1969 Apollo 11 took 51 hours to reach Lunar orbit from Earth orbit, and the chemically propelled space tug envisioned by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Corporation to transport their Blue Moon landing vehicle to Lunar orbit would not be much faster than Apollo 11.

In contrast, a nuclear space tug has the potential to reduce transit times to the Moon to 12 hours while having the endurance to make many round trips to the Moon.

For the United States, China and Russia, successful development of space nuclear power is now the next crucial space technology required for achieving the ability to efficiently and at the lowest cost to build the infrastructure on Mars and the Moon sufficient to advance and defend their national interests.

In the early 2010s the Russian company Arsenel began revealing details about its nuclear thermal propulsion space tug called the Transport Energy Module (TEM).

China is actively pushing their International Lunar Research Station Cooperation Organization as a coalition of dictatorships to dominate the Moon and potentially deny access to the Artemis Accords democracies led by the United States.

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