Boeing to lead nuclear powered space systems study

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has awarded a contract to a Boeing-led team to study deep space propulsion systems for the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter mission.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has awarded a contract to a Boeing-led team to study deep space propulsion systems for the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) mission, scheduled to launch no earlier than 2011.

JIMO would be the first space science mission in NASA’s Project Prometheus, part of the space agency’s initiative to develop space nuclear power and electric propulsion technologies.

The contract, valued at $6 million with a $5 million option for further research, is one of three awarded and runs through fall 2003. The Boeing-led team will study technology options for the reactor, power conversion, electric propulsion and other subsystems of the JIMO spacecraft meant to explore the Jovian moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.

NASA plans to select an industry prime contractor in 2004 to work with JPL to develop, launch and operate the spacecraft.

According to Boeing, nuclear-powered spacecraft would allow for the collection and return of an enormous amount of scientific data and could support scientific instruments such as ice-penetrating radar, electromagnetically launched deep penetrators and laser spectroscopes.

‘JIMO will be an ambitious project and Boeing is ready to develop new ways to travel and explore the solar system,’ said Joe Mills, Boeing vice president and program manager for JIMO. ‘I’m excited about the exploration of Jupiter’s icy moons and unlocking their secrets.’

In another part of the NASA Prometheus program, Boeing is also currently working on a next generation radioisotope power source under a recently- awarded US Department of Energy contract. This generator is designed for use both in space and on the surface of planets such as Mars.