Nuclear Engine Could Launch 3-Month Trips To Mars

by : Hannah Smith on : 26 Oct 2020 16:02
Nuclear Engine Could Launch 3-Month Trips To MarsUSNC-Tech/NASA

Traveling to Mars has fascinated mankind for decades, but there’s always been one major problem – it’s really, really far away.

One Seattle-based nuclear technology company believes it may have come up with a way to cut the time it takes to travel from Earth to Mars to just three months, with a new nuclear engine concept design that could revolutionise deep-space travel.


Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies, the company behind the new engine design, has recently delivered their concept to NASA, and hope it could be used to launch manned trips to Mars in the future.

The engine, which uses Nuclear Thermal Propulsion, is said to be more efficient and more powerful than traditional chemical engines, as well as safer and more reliable than existing NTP engine designs. Chemical engines are believed to be nearing their theoretical limits, so rocket engineers are increasingly focusing on nuclear engines like these as the future of space travel.


A three-month journey time to Mars beats even the most ambitious predictions of most people involved in developing early manned expeditions to the red planet. Elon Musk, who has said he hopes to put humans on Mars by 2024, has previously said he believes that SpaceX could carry crews to the planet in around six months. SpaceX’s ‘Starman’ – launched on the Falcon Heavy rocket in February 2018 – recently made its first fly by of Mars after a 32-month journey.


UNSC-Tech’s engine is powered by fuel derived from High-Assay Low Enriched Uranium – reprocessed civilian nuclear fuel that is enriched to between 5% and 20%. The company claims this fuel is capable of operating at higher temperatures, and is therefore not only safer, but can produce higher levels of thrust.

PA Images

According to New Atlas, Dr Paolo Venneri, USNC-Tech CEO, said of the designs:

Key to USNC-Tech’s design is a conscious overlap between terrestrial and space reactor technologies.

This allows us to leverage the advancements in nuclear technology and infrastructure from terrestrial systems and apply them to our space reactors.


The concept was developed as part of an ongoing project examining the possibilities of Nuclear Thermal Propulsion engines, and while the concept is currently being looked at by NASA and the Defense Department, they believe it could also be sold commercially, allowing for a future in which private space exploration is achievable.

Three-month, and even six-month trips to Mars are still a way off, though, and there’s still a long way to go until scientists can prove they can create a nuclear reactor that is light enough and stable enough for use outside the Earth’s atmosphere. We can all dream though, right?

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Topics: Science, Mars, NASA, nuclear, Tech