Nuclear reactor on the moon? NASA seeks ideas to fuel future lunar missions

If anyone has a good idea on how to put a fission nuclear power plant on the moon, the US government wants to hear about it.

NASA and the country’s largest federal nuclear research laboratory on Friday launched a tender for a fission surface energy system.

NASA is working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory to establish a solar-independent power source for missions to the moon by the end of the decade.

“Providing a reliable, high-power system on the Moon is a vital next step in human space exploration, and achieving it is within our grasp,” Sebastian Corbisiero, head of the Fission Surface Power project at the lab, said in a statement.

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If he could manage to sustain a sustained human presence on the moon, the next target would be Mars. NASA says surface fission power could provide sustained and abundant power regardless of the environmental conditions on the Moon or Mars.

“I expect surface fission power systems to greatly benefit our power supply architecture plans for the Moon and Mars and even spur innovation for uses here on Earth,” Jim said. Reuter, associate administrator of the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate, in a statement.

The reactor would be built on Earth and then sent to the Moon.

Plans submitted for the surface fission energy system are expected to include a uranium-fueled reactor core, a system to convert nuclear energy into usable energy, a thermal management system to keep the reactor cool, and a distribution system providing no less than 40 kilowatts of continuous electrical power for 10 years in the lunar environment.

Some other requirements include that it be able to turn off and on without human assistance, that it can operate from the deck of a lunar lander, and that it can be removed from the lander and operate. on a mobile system and be transported to another lunar site for the operation.

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Additionally, when launched from Earth to the Moon, it must fit in a cylinder 12 feet (4 meters) in diameter and 18 feet (6 meters) long. It must not weigh more than 13,200 pounds (6,000 kilograms).

Requests for proposals are for an initial system design and must be submitted by February 19.

The Idaho National Laboratory has worked with NASA on various projects in the past. More recently, the lab helped power NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover with a radioisotope power system, which converts heat generated by the natural decay of plutonium-238 into electrical energy.

The car-sized rover landed on Mars in February and remained active on the Red Planet.

The Energy Department has also worked in partnership with private companies on various nuclear power projects, in particular on a new generation of smaller power plants ranging from small modular reactors to small mobile reactors which can be quickly installed in the field and then dismantled. when not needed.

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