Aug. 3 (UPI) -- BWXT Nuclear Energy Inc. is to draw up conceptual designs for a nuclear thermal propulsion reactor for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The propulsion reactor design would be in support for a possible future manned mission to Mars.
"BWXT is extremely pleased to be working with NASA on this exciting nuclear space program in support of the Mars mission," Rex D. Geveden, president and chief executive officer of parent company BWX Technologies, said in a press release. "We are uniquely qualified to design, develop and manufacture the reactor and fuel for a nuclear-powered spacecraft."
"This is an opportune time to pivot our capabilities into the space market where we see long-term growth opportunities in nuclear propulsion and nuclear surface power."
The contract awarded BWXT Nuclear Energy is worth $18.8 million.
Work will involve the initial reactor conceptual design, initial fuel and core fabrication development, licensing support for initial ground testing, and engine test program development.
The reactor would be part of a nuclear thermal propulsion rocket engine to propel a spacecraft from Earth orbit to Mars and back. BWXT said its reactor design is based on low-enriched uranium fuel.
Work on the program will begin immediately, the company said, and is expected to continue through 2019, subject to the exercise of contract options and provision of annual congressional funding.