Press Release

NASA Partners With Department of Energey for Space Exploration

By SpaceRef Editor
March 17, 2004
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NASA Partners With Department of Energey for Space Exploration
Prometheus will be used for the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter

NASA has a new partner in its mission to explore the universe and search for life.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Naval Reactors (NR) Program
joins NASA in its effort to investigate and develop space
nuclear power and propulsion technologies for civilian
applications. These activities could enable unprecedented space
exploration missions and scientific return unachievable with
current technology.

NR brings 50-plus years of practical experience in developing
safe, rugged, reliable, compact and long-lived reactor systems
designed to operate in unforgiving environments. NR is a joint
DOE and Department of the Navy organization responsible for all
aspects of naval nuclear propulsion.

The partnership is responsible for developing the first NASA
spacecraft, the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO), that will
take advantage of a nuclear-reactor energy source for exploring
our solar system. JIMO will visit Jupiter’s three icy moons,
Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. These icy worlds, in particular
Europa, are believed to have liquid-water oceans, under a thick
layer of ice on their surfaces, which could potentially harbor

The reactor system will provide substantially more electrical
power. This will greatly enhance the capability of ion-drive
propulsion, the number and variety of scientific instruments on
the spacecraft, the rate of data transmission, and orbital
maneuvering around Jupiter’s moons.

NASA sought this partnership because NR has an enduring
commitment to safety and environmental stewardship that is a
requirement for an undertaking of this magnitude, ” said NASA
Administrator Sean O’Keefe.

“This partnership will help ensure the safe development and use
of a space-fission reactor to enable unparalleled science and
discovery as we explore the solar system and beyond. This work
is an integral piece of the President’s exploration agenda,”
Administrator O’Keefe said.

NASA, through its newly created Office of Exploration Systems,
expects that several reactor modules of the same or similar
design as that required for JIMO would be developed for use on
future exploration missions. NR will direct and oversee the
development, design and delivery of, and operational support
for these civilian reactor modules.

The Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, another
DOE organization with extensive nuclear-reactor development
experience, will retain responsibility for supporting NASA’s
other space nuclear technology efforts, including long-term
space-reactor science and technology development not associated
with NR’s responsibilities.

All activities in support of NASA will be conducted as part of
NR’s civilian responsibilities for the National Nuclear
Security Administration, a semi-autonomous agency of DOE.
Activities in support of NASA are not part of NR’s Navy
responsibilities or any Department of Defense activities. This
partnership with NASA is consistent with NR’s history of
supporting fission-reactor work for civilian applications,
including the first U.S. commercial production of electricity
from nuclear power at the Shippingport Atomic Power Station.

NASA will fund all work under the partnership. Specific roles
and responsibilities will be defined in Memoranda of
Understanding and Agreements currently being drafted by NASA
and NR. NR and the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy will also
review capabilities and facilities at DOE laboratories outside
NR for consideration in support of JIMO and other Project
Prometheus activities.

Established in 2003, Project Prometheus is developing
radioisotope electric power sources for use in space and on
planets or moons, as well as new fission-reactor power sources
for advanced missions into deep space requiring higher power
levels for science observations, propulsion, communications and
life support systems.

More information on Project Prometheus is available at:

More information on the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter is available

SpaceRef staff editor.