European Space Agency Is Funding the Worst Acronym in Space Travel

A render of a nuclear-powered rocket.
A render of a nuclear-powered rocket.

Nuclear rocket engines could be the next giant leap for mankind.

There is a lot of incredible research being done around space travel right now. At NASA, they’re developing new engines that could power us onto Mars, private rocket firms are looking at ways to make space travel more economical and the European Space Agency just launched a round of funding to investigate the potential of nuclear-powered spacecraft.

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As part of the Future Launchers Preparatory Program, the European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded funding to seven studies across Europe that are investigating the next-generation of rocket engines. As part of the investment, the ESA is supporting the work of a team from the Czech Republic, which is behind the RocketRoll program.

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The program is in development at the Czech Technical University in Prague and the Institute of Space Systems at the University of Stuttgart. As part of the project, scientists are studying the practicalities of a new type of nuclear-based electric propulsion.

Currently, space craft rely on a chemical propellant like hydrogen or rubber to provide them with the energy they use to travel. Once in the vacuum of space, some also work with electricity that is generated through solar cells attached to the craft. But, the RocketRoll program says such power plants are “approaching their physical limits.”

“Nuclear propulsion can be more efficient than the most efficient chemical propulsion or overcome solar-limited electric propulsion, enabling exploration of places no other technology can reach,” said Dr Jan Frýbort, principal investigator of nuclear technology at the Czech Technical University, in a statement.

“This is a big challenge for future space missions beyond our Solar System.”

A photo of a European Space Agency rocket launch.
A photo of a European Space Agency rocket launch.

Space rockets traditionally use a chemical propellant.

But before the team could begin working to solve this looming question surrounding space travel, it had to settle on a name for the program. It had to be a catchy acronym, this is space after all, so the team settled on RocketRoll.

That’s a pretty long acronym, I hear you cry, but just wait until you read what it’s actually short for.

According to, the project’s full title is the Preliminary European Reckon on Nuclear Electric Propulsion for Space Applications. In order to turn this into that catchy name, the researchers plucked out a whole selection of random letters from each word to shoehorn them into the catchy title.

So, on the research project’s own website, they list the full name as “pReliminary eurOpean reCKon on nuclEar elecTric pROpuLsion for space appLications” to try and point out how it came up with the name. And I’ve looked; the acronym doesn’t even work properly if you translate it into Czech or French.

Daft names aside, it is a pretty exciting-sounding project — even if it should really be known as PERNEPSA instead. The next step for the team will be to uncover the experience and technology available across Europe to develop a nuclear-based propulsion system. They will also develop a concept design for such a craft that could one day travel through the cosmos.

RocketRoll says its results will be published next year.

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