The Truth About The Pentagon's New Atomic Moon Rocket

The mad scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are at it again, and this time they're going nuclear. Acting on a new directive to extend the orbital reach of satellites tens of thousands of miles in the direction of the moon, the shadowy R&D arm of the Pentagon is hard at work on a "nuclear thermal propulsion" engine. According to The Daily Beast, the atomic-powered rocket is designed to push US assets deeper into "cislunar space", a region of outer space between the Earth and moon that can be tricky to explore, let alone orbit.

The military hopes to use this latest propulsion technology to counter Chinese efforts to occupy the same cislunar orbits. You see, there's a new space race on at the Pentagon, and this time China's playing the role of principal antagonist. DARPA, which will oversee the new rocket's development, explained in its latest budget, "The capability afforded by [nuclear thermal propulsion] will expand the operating presence of the U.S. in space to the cislunar volume and enhance domestic operations to a new high-ground, which is in danger of being defined by the adversary," In other words: no one plants a flag on the dark side of the moon unless it's Pink Floyd or the good ol' US of A.

Atomic rockets will open up new opportunities to mine the moon

Why all this sudden interest in the moon's backside? Resources, of course. Both the US and Chinese space agencies would like to sink their talons into that sweet lunar crust just to see what kind of rare elements they can claw out. In order to advance these initiatives efficiently, a new generation of rockets will be essential. The current generation of chemical rockets release quite a bit of energy upon ignition, but you know what releases even more energy? Splitting the effing atom.

DARPA spokesman Jared Adams told The Daily Beast, "An agile nuclear thermal propulsion vehicle enables the [Defense Department] to maintain space domain awareness of the burgeoning activity within this vast volume." Translation: we need nukes to stay top dog out there.

Congress appropriated $10 million in 2020 for DARPA to begin studying a new "Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations" (DRACO). In 2021, DARPA requested another $21 million to continue the project. Since the nuclear rockets are ... nuclear, they can't be discharged on the surface of Earth — at least not without causing catastrophic environmental contamination. The idea is to use DRACO rockets to maneuver craft through the vast expanses of space, and as we all know: every technology developed by the government is always used exactly as intended. What could go wrong?