The Air Force Research Laboratory has advanced a two-track program that seeks to mature technologies to facilitate the development of spacecraft that use nuclear electric power systems with the award of three contracts to Lockheed Martin, Intuitive Machines and Westinghouse Government Services, Breaking Defense reported Monday.
Under the high power mission application, AFRL sought white papers on spacecraft concepts and designs that use nuclear fission reactors. The effort seeks to come up with a baseline for space fission reactors and supporting subcomponents through the development of Technology Readiness Level platforms.
For the low power aspect, the lab solicited papers on concepts that employ compact radioisotope power systems.
“These low power applications in a small form factor will stress system design in order to maximize on-orbit capabilities,” according to the statement of objective.
Lockheed will further develop the technical design of spacecraft platforms and subsystems to a preliminary design review level under a $33.7 million contract for the JETSON program’s high-power track.
Westinghouse Government Services received a potential $17 million contract to conduct analyses and trade studies, mature relevant technologies and perform risk reduction strategies to study how a nuclear fission system could be developed from a spacecraft, subsystem and architecture perspective.
Intuitive Machines will introduce spacecraft concepts that use compact RPS and related support systems in power management and distribution, thermal regulation, on-orbit mobility and other critical areas under a $9.5 million contract for the program’s low-power mission application track.
The Department of Defense said contract work will occur in Colorado, Mississippi and South Carolina through Dec. 29, 2025.