Dark Fission Launches to Bring Nuclear Thermal Rockets to Market

Promises revolutionary gains in performance, leveraging sixty years of evolving technologies

BERKELEY, Calif., March 22, 2022 — Dark Fission Space Systems, an early-stage space start-up, aims to accelerate the expansion of the space economy beyond Low Earth Orbit through the development and deployment of the first commercially available nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) engine. Led by Dr. Fred Kennedy, the Dark Fission team will combine years of NTR design evolution with modern advances in computing, manufacturing, and materials to produce a safe and reliable in-space propulsion capability with performance characteristics exceeding anything available today.

The frontier of commercial space activity is now extending throughout cislunar space, encompassing Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO), the Earth -Moon Lagrange points, and the lunar surface. Because of the immense distances involved, current propulsion solutions are typically either inefficient or very slow. NTR offers both short transit times and very high fuel economy, enabling persistent transportation between numerous orbits of interest.

As DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office Director from 2017 to 2019, Dr. Kennedy originated what has become the agency’s nuclear space propulsion program, DRACO. Dark Fission will collaborate closely with both government and industry partners to pursue the on-orbit demonstration of an operational NTR engine within the next five years. Unlocking the capabilities of an NTR is expected to result in its rapid market adoption for orbital transfer and lunar access services – and open the door to additional opportunities beyond.