UK Teams up With Rolls-Royce on Nuclear Spacecraft Engine

The travel time to Mars could be halved with the new spacecraft.
Fabienne Lang

Rolls-Royce and the U.K. Space Agency announced on Tuesday that they have signed a contract hoping to "revolutionize space travel" by building and using nuclear propulsion engines. 

British space exploration could dramatically change as using a nuclear-powered engine could send British astronauts to Mars in just three or four months — about half the usual time. 

Nuclear power could also lead to deeper space exploration as research moves further into space and away from the sun, solar power isn't an option. Travel times could potentially also be significantly reduced. 


"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," Dave Gordon, U.K. Senior Vice President at Rolls-Royce Defense, said in the press release.

"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."

According to the U.K. government's press release, the partnership between the two will bring together planetary scientists to look into how nuclear energy could be useful in future space travel, potentially revolutionizing the industry. 

As Dr. Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the U.K. Space Agency said "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," he continued.

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The U.K. isn't the first nation to look into nuclear power for space exploration. The U.S. first tested nuclear spacecraft technology in the 50s and 60s, however, the plans were scrapped in 1971. In more recent times, the U.S. has started looking into nuclear-powered space technology once more, as reported in The Guardian.

Even more recently, researchers from Sofia University in Bulgaria are looking into nuclear-powered spacecraft to explore Jupiter.

Science Minister in the U.K., Amanda Solloway, explained  that "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."

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