Plutonium to Pluto - Russia has announced plans to build a nuclear powered spacecraft engine by 2017. Rockets are essentially energy conversion devices, and the more energy you have to play with, the more capable they become. There are limits to how much energy can be extracted from a chemical reaction or by using solar power (today’s dominant space systems); the next step up the scale is nuclear energy.
A ground-breaking Russian nuclear space-travel propulsion system will be ready by 2017 and will power a ship capable of long-haul interplanetary missions by 2025, giving Russia a head start in the outer-space race. The megawatt-class nuclear drive will function for up to three years and produce 100-150 kilowatts of energy at normal capacity. Xenon will serve as propellant for the engines.