NASA wants build and transport a nuclear reactor to the moon to impulse a human presence for at least 10 years. To that end, the space agency has chosen three companies to develop design concepts for a nuclear fission system to be placed on the Moon within ofhe Artemis program.
On Tuesday, NASA ad who has awarded the contracts to Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse and IX (a joint venture between Intuitive Machines and X-Energy). Contracts are offered in associationation with the US Department of Energy (DOE) and have an approximate value of 5 million dollars each. The funds will enable these companies to develop initial design concepts for a fission power system 40 kilowatt capable of lasting at least 10 years on the Moon. Companies will work on their conceptual designs for a period 12 months.
A fission reactor works by splitting heavy atomic nuclei into lighter nuclei, which releases energy as a byproduct. The fission reactor must include a uranium-fueled reactor core and a system for converting nuclear energy into usable energy. NASA and DOE they asked for the first time proposals for a lunar fission power system in November 2021.
Why nuclear energy? The benefit of fission systems is that are durable, lightweight and relatively powerful. This lunar nuclear reactor would have to be assembled on Earth and fit into a rocket for transportation to the moon. So you have to to weigh less than 6000 kilograms and fit into a 4 meter cylinder Wide.
Although it is Relatively small, the nuclear reactor would be used to power operations on the Moon, and perhaps even Mars. The reactor would be used to power rovers, science experiments, and could also use the Moon’s resources to produce water and propellant. of rockets, according to NASA. “NASA and DOE are collaborating on this important and challenging development that, once completed, will be an incredible step toward long-term human exploration of the Moon and Mars,” said Todd Tofil, chief of fission surface energy projects at NASA’s Glenn Research Center.
The NASA expect to carry humans back to the Moon not before 2025, but it also wants to establish a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface and potentially use the Moon to launch to other destinations like Mars. There are also plans to build a Lunar Gateway (a space station in orbit around the Moon) and a Artemis Base Camp (a station on the surface of the Moon).
There is still much to learn about Earth’s natural satellite, and a prolonged stay on the lunar surface will certainly help astronauts become familiar with the environment. But for Therefore, they will need to connect their devices to some kind of power source. The proposed fission system is a step in that direction.