USNC Awarded $5M NASA Nuclear Propulsion Contract
SEATTLE (October 17, 2023) – Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), a leader in nuclear energy innovation, is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a contract by NASA to develop and mature Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) systems for the advancement of America’s civil science and cislunar capabilities. This contract, which will see NTP move from the paper phase into hardware, is a testament to USNC’s capabilities on the leading edge of advanced reactor design and manufacturing.
Under this contract, USNC will manufacture and test advanced, proprietary fuel the company has developed through significant internal research and development efforts. Simultaneously, the company will collaborate with its commercial partner, Blue Origin, to mature the design of an NTP engine specifically optimized for near-term civil science and cislunar missions. These efforts mark a significant step forward in preparation for long-term applications of NTP systems and will build on the foundation laid by NASA and DARPA’s DRACO demonstration.
“This next year is a critical and exciting time for NTP. While we’re optimistic about the hurdles the DRACO program will break through, NTP still needs significant development before it is ready to be deployed as part of a larger mission that moves real payloads in space. This next year will get us prepared for operational missions achieving higher performance after the DRACO demonstration,” said Dr. Vishal Patel, Program Manager for Nuclear Propulsion at Ultra Safe.
For both USNC and its partners, the development of a civil science mission is not just a government program they are subcontractors to, but a clear step on the company’s ambitions for NTP to be part of a robust space economy. “A civil science program, with dedicated funding from NASA, will ensure diverse approaches to the development of NTP and provide significant risk reduction,” said Paolo Venneri, Executive VP at Ultra Safe Nuclear Advanced Technologies. “Both cislunar and deep space science missions, like the ones being explored under this contract, will serve as steppingstones towards both commercial NTP capabilities and a future human mission to Mars.”
Building off its recent delivery of nuclear fuel particles to NASA’s Space Nuclear Propulsion (SNP) program, this contract will see USNC manufacture fuel assemblies for testing in prototypic conditions. “We’ve been hard at work on NTP, bringing our fuel and reactor design closer to production. We’re eager to develop these high-performance NTP systems and demonstrate our unique solution for NTP fuel,” said Dr. Michael Eades, Chief Scientist for Advanced Technologies at Ultra Safe. In addition to building fuel assemblies, USNC will also be building and testing critical safety systems for the NTP engine, a pre-requisite for eventual testing of the integrated nuclear system at a DOE site.
This initiative is expected to build credibility and maintain private cash flow into NTP development by both USNC and its partners, while continuously pushing the government to lower commercial barriers to entry for NTP by advancing the development of fuel and engine testing infrastructure.
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation looks forward to breaking new grounds in advanced in-space propulsion, contributing to the nation's civil science capabilities and, ultimately, the future of space exploration.
About Ultra Safe Nuclear
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, a U.S. company headquartered in Seattle, is a global leader and strong vertical integrator of nuclear technologies and services, on Earth and in Space. The company produces the Micro-Modular™ reactor (MMR®), TRISO-based Fully Ceramic Microencapsulated (FCM®) nuclear fuel, and develops nuclear power and propulsion technologies for space exploration.
The company has active MMR deployment projects in Canada at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River, and in the United States at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Additional units are in development in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Ultra Safe Nuclear is working in collaboration with NASA and the Department of Defense on advanced radioisotope-based power production technology, nuclear thermal propulsion systems and advanced materials using the same foundational inherent and intrinsic safety principles to drive innovation in fuels, materials, and design.
Ultra Safe Nuclear is committed to opening new markets around the world for safe, commercially competitive heat and power from nuclear energy. Ultra Safe Nuclear is Reliable Zero-Carbon Energy. Anywhere.