Has NASA tested any nuclear thermal rocket engine after dropping the NERVA program? Is there any current ongoing mission to use nuclear power to make a rocket fly?


As of 2012 (Nuclear and Emerging Technologies in Space meeting at LPI) the outline of development program is as follows:

See this pdf file for links to papers.

(note: only tangible test & evaluation items listed)

  • Manufacture and test fuel elements in two compositions: NERVA composite, and Uranium dioxide UO2 in tungsten ceramic-metallic "cermet". Testing will be conducted at DOE facilities and at Marshall (NTR Element Environmental Simulator)

  • Conduct safety tests at Nevada Test Site by injecting hot gas with Krypton-85 tracer to find out if future testing will not leak radioactive particles.

  • After that NASA and DOE will go for approval of testing by higher-ups in 2015.

  • If approved, full scale testing will be started at Nevada Test Site in late 2019.

  • Flight technology demonstration mission is scheduled for 2023.

timeline courtesy Stan Borowski


It was DoD, not NASA, but there was a post-NERVA nuclear rocket research program named Project TIMBERWIND.

The summary of the project at its conclusion can be gleaned from this report.


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