General Atomics, San Diego, California, has been awarded a $22,164,736 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) – Track A program.

Work will be performed in San Diego, California (71%); Louisville, Colorado (19%); Rockville, Maryland (3%); Seattle, Washington (4%); and Cullman, Alabama (3%), with an estimated completion date of October 2022. Fiscal 2020 research and development funds in the amount of $2,175,000 are being obligated at the time of award. This contract is a competitive acquisition in accordance with the original broad agency announcement HR001120S0031.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Arlington, Virginia, is the contracting activity (HR001121C0066).

The goal of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program is to demonstrate a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system on orbit. NTP uses a nuclear reactor to heat propellant to extreme temperatures before expelling the hot propellant through a nozzle to produce thrust. Compared to conventional space propulsion technologies, NTP offers a high thrust-to-weight ratio around 10,000 times greater than electric propulsion and two-to-five times greater specific impulse (i.e. propellant efficiency) than chemical propulsion.

The DRACO program anticipates two tracks. Track A will include the baseline design of a NTP reactor and culminate in a baseline design review. Track B will include development of an operational system concept to meet operational mission objectives and a demonstration system design that is traceable to the operational system but focuses on demonstrating the propulsion subsystem. Track B is anticipated to culminate in a technology maturation plan review for the demonstration system.

Sources: DoD; DARPA

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