NASA and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have announced that Lockheed Martin has been selected to design, build and test a propulsion system that could accelerate travel to Mars. This is reported by The New York Times.

The corresponding $499 million program is called DRACO, short for Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations. It involves the creation of a spaceship with a nuclear thermal rocket engine.

The nuclear reactor within the framework of the program will be built by BWX Technologies, which is based in the state of Virginia (USA). The reactor will quickly heat the hydrogen fuel to extremely high temperatures. The gas will be fed through the engine nozzle and create thrust for the ship.

The development of DRACO should end with a flight test, which Lockheed Martin predicts in late 2025 or early 2026. The demonstration spacecraft will most likely be in orbit at an altitude of 435 to 1,240 miles.

It is expected that the implementation of this project will significantly reduce the flight time to Mars.

By the way, earlier the companies Impulse Space and Relativity Space announced plans to launch the first commercial mission to Mars in 2026.