March 1, 2024
Putting a nuclear reactor on the Moon may seem like the script of a science

Putting a nuclear reactor on the Moon may seem like the script of a science fiction movie, but one day it could be reality.

NASA has launched a request for proposals for a “fission surface power system” as part of its Artemis program to take astronauts to the Moon and eventually Mars. NASA’s call offers some clues as to what a fission reactor might look like on the Moon.

According to the plans of the US space agency, astronauts will spend up to two months living on the Moon, which will become a starting point for missions in the solar system.

The problem is that a lunar night can last up to 14 days, making solar power an unreliable power source for a bustling moon base.

Fission energy on the surface, along with solar cells, batteries, and fuel cells, can provide the energy needed to run rover vehicles, conduct experiments, and use the Moon’s resources to produce water, propellants, and other life support supplies.

But it will have to be much smaller than the conventional nuclear reactors used to generate electricity on Earth. To reach the Moon, the reactor has to fit inside a cylindrical container four meters wide and six meters long, and it cannot weigh more than 6,000 kg.

If it survives the launch and landing, the reactor must be transportable, so that it can be taken from its landing site to be used elsewhere on the Moon, where it will produce at least 40 kilowatts of continuous power for up to ten years. .

Additionally, NASA requires the reactor to be fully self-contained. It cannot rely on any form of external power or robotic support, or astronaut involvement, for system start-up, shutdown, operation, or maintenance, according to NASA’s tender documents.

Abundant energy will be key to future space exploration.

NASA and the US Department of Energy are also seeking proposals for a nuclear thermal propulsion system that could power future missions to Mars.

The challenges are tremendous. What can go wrong?

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