The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has given awards for its space contracts on successfully demonstrating the Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program that predominantly aims to demonstrate a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system above low Earth orbit in the year 2025. The US Defence Agency has stated that General Atomics will develop the reactor, whereas Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin will develop the spacecraft design.
DARPA has said that rapid maneuver, which is a core tenet of modern US Department of Defense operations on land, at sea, and in the air, has improved several spacecraft based on its current electric and chemical space propulsion systems. It believes that DRACO's NTP system will potentially achieve high thrust-to-weight ratios similar to in-space chemical propulsion and approach the higher propellant efficiency of electric systems.
This combination will give DRACO spacecraft greater agility to integrate and implement rapid maneuver in cislunar space, which is present between the Earth and the moon. The first phase of the program will last for 18 months and has two tracks. Track A is performed by General Atomics that entails the primary design of the reactor and propulsion subsystem. Track B will see Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin working to produce an operating system of the spacecraft to meet the mission's objectives.