A Russian Megawatt-class nuclear propulsion system for long-range manned spacecraft must be ready by 2017, Skolkovo Foundation's Nuclear Cluster head Denis Kovalevich said on Wednesday.
“At present we are testing several types of fuel and later we will start drafting the design,” Kovalevich said. “The first parts [of the nuclear engine] should be built in 2013, and the engine is expected to be ready by 2017.”
The engine is being developed for interplanetary manned spacecraft to ensure that Russia maintains a competitive edge in the space race, including the exploration of the Moon and Mars.
The Russian government allocated 500 million rubles ($16.7 million) in 2010 to start a project to build a spacecraft with a nuclear engine. The overall investment in the project is estimated at 17 billion rubles (over $580 million) until 2019.
According to Russia’s nuclear power agency Rosatom, the development and construction of a nuclear propulsion system for spacecraft will cost over 7.2 billion rubles ($247 mln).
NASA started a program to develop a nuclear propulsion system in 2003, and spent several hundred million dollars on the project before cutting funding.
Russian space officials believe that nuclear engines for interplanetary spaceships are a very promising area, as solar power is too weak to be used as a power source at distances beyond Earth's orbit.