Lockheed Martin, a global aerospace and defense company, has embarked on a groundbreaking mission with the Joint Emergent Technology Supplying On-Orbit Nuclear (JETSON) High Power program.
Recently awarded $33.7 million from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), this initiative aims to advance nuclear electric power and propulsion technologies, pushing the boundaries of spacecraft design and capabilities.
In a recent Twitter announcement, Lockheed Martin highlighted the significance of the JETSON award, stating, “We’re jetting off with nuclear electric power!” The collaboration involves Space Nuclear Power Corp (SpaceNukes) and BWX Technologies, Inc. (BWXT), renowned experts in nuclear power and reactor design. Together, they are set to revolutionize spacecraft mobility, situational awareness, and power generation for deep space exploration.
Barry Miles, JETSON program manager and principal investigator at Lockheed Martin, emphasized the importance of nuclear fission development for space applications, stating, “Lockheed Martin is focused on developing these systems with our important government agencies and industry partners.”
The JETSON program comes on the heels of Lockheed Martin’s DRACO announcement in July 2023, showcasing the company’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of space exploration. The JETSON effort is currently undergoing the preliminary design review stage, with the potential to advance to critical design review.
JETSON’s innovative approach draws inspiration from the 2018 Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) demonstration led by NASA and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. The reactor’s design leverages the valuable lessons learned from this groundbreaking demonstration.
The technology underlying JETSON has the potential to revolutionize power generation for spacecraft. Unlike conventional solar panels that typically generate around 600 watts of power (equivalent to six lightbulbs), JETSON offers a much higher electrical output. This becomes especially crucial for deep space exploration missions that may not be in close proximity to the sun or operate in shadowed regions.
Lockheed Martin’s JETSON program aligns with the evolving needs of space exploration, offering a viable alternative to conventional power sources. As the project progresses, it not only signifies a pivotal moment for Lockheed Martin but also propels the United States back into the realm of nuclear-powered space exploration after more than 50 years.