Russia is set to build a spacecraft propelled by nuclear energy that will make flight to planets such as Mars possible.

The $600m project will develop the spacecraft, whose nuclear-powered engine would allow it to enter orbit without energy from other sources.

Space expert Yury Karash said that Russia had a fairly good chance of being the first country to launch a non-landing expedition to Mars in 12-14 years, providing that adequate funding were allocated for the project.

The Soviet Union launched a total of 32 spacecraft with small-capacity nuclear propulsion units in the 1970s and 1980s, according to The Hindu.

The project however, faces concerns regarding the consequences in the event that such a nuclear-powered spacecraft crashes.

The draft design of the spacecraft is expected to be ready by 2012 and the actual prototype will be built by 2018.