The UK Space Agency, on 2021 Jan 12, announced a research contract with Rolls-Royce for nuclear propulsion of spacecraft, based on R-R's experience with nuclear power for submarines. The press release is bereft of any tangible details; it merely promises faster travel to Mars than chemical propulsion (duh). It ends by disparaging Project Orion, so presumably R-R won't be duplicating that.

The press release has been quoted by many news agencies, but none of these even guess at technical details. What might R-R be planning to investigate?

  • $\begingroup$ Reading between the lines it sounds like nuclear electric to me. $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Jan 15, 2021 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


The goals of the program seem to correspond to the capabilities of nuclear thermal rockets, which use nuclear fission instead of chemical energies to heat and pressurize gas that is expelled from the rocket to produce thrust. In addition to the UK project, there has also been renewed interest in nuclear thermal development in the U.S.

There are also nuclear electric rockets which use nuclear power to generate electricity to drive ion engines or other electric thrusters. But it's hard to see how those would be useful for cutting the travel time to Mars.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Likely, but the most recent connection between Rolls-Royce and NTRs that I could find was: Alan Bond, "A Nuclear Rocket for the Space Tug," J. British Interplanetary Soc. 25:625-629, 1972. $\endgroup$ Jan 15, 2021 at 18:01

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